British Columbia unveiled a fall COVID-19 battle plan that includes newly approved booster vaccines and flu shots to ward off the expected return of respiratory illnesses, with few expectations for more lockdowns and mask mandates.
COVID-19 remains a threat, but vaccines have helped change the nature of the disease for most people in B.C., and a return to wearing masks or lockdown orders is not likely unless a strong new variant appears, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday.
“The pool of people who are susceptible is different now and that’s because of vaccinations,” she said at a news conference.
“I don’t see us getting there unless we see the emergence of something new and different,” said Henry, referring to a return to previous strict public health measures.
The population’s level of immunity is higher than at the start of the pandemic, but B.C. is still not at the point “where we can let our guard down,” she said.
Residents will start receiving invitations to book a second booster shot this month in the campaign aimed at combating an expected increase in COVID-19 and flu cases in November and December when people spend more time indoors.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” said Henry. “This is our best guess about what’s going to happen and unfold over the coming months. That we think will give the best protection for all of us as we are expecting an upsurge of COVID-19.”
Health Canada’s recently approved bivalent vaccines that offer protection against COVID-19 variants, including the Omicron variant, will be a major part of the fall campaign, she said.
The bivalent vaccines, which are expected to arrive in B.C. this week, will be available as second boosters to adults 18 years and older and high-risk youth aged between 12 to 17 years, Indigenous Peoples and other vulnerable individuals.
People will also have the option of receiving a second dose of their original booster shot.
Henry said the immunization campaign will also include opportunities to get the most recent flu vaccine next month as respiratory illnesses are expected to return after a decline due to COVID restrictions.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended people receive a second booster dose at least six months or longer after their first booster.
It also recommended those who have had COVID-19 get a booster shot three months following an infection.
B.C. expects to receive about 110,000 bivalent vaccine doses this week, with more arriving throughout September, said Dr. Penny Ballem, the executive lead for Immunize B.C.’s vaccine program.
“We will be able to vaccinate at its peak about 250,000 to 280,000 people a week,” she said.
But Ballem said about 1.3 million people in B.C. still have not received their first booster shot.
She also said vaccine numbers for children under five years old and those between five and 11 are below expectations, but the province will soon launch a campaign to focus on increasing child vaccine numbers.
Pharmacies and clinics will administer the fall COVID-19 vaccines, Ballem said.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said B.C. has administered more than 12 million COVID-19 vaccines so far. He said 92 per cent of people in B.C. 12 years and older have received their first two vaccine doses.
“Put simply, when we get our vaccines and our booster, we save lives,” he said.
The COVID-19 Data Repository at Johns Hopkins University reports 4,145 COVID-19 deaths in B.C.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 6, 2022.
Correction: An earlier headline on this story stated bivalent vaccines would become available in B.C. in October. In fact, Moderna’s Spikevax vaccine will begin to be adminstered in September.