B.C. plans to widen eligibility for second booster shots, or fourth doses of vaccine, this fall, although specific details on exactly when different age groups will be eligible was not revealed at a July 8 press conference.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said that those 12 and older who have had third doses of the vaccine will be eligible for fourth doses once they have gone 182 days after their third dose. The timeline for different age groups is expected to be between September and December.
Dr. Penny Ballem, who is leading the province's roll-out of vaccines, said a new batch of invitations to get a second booster shot will be sent on Monday. She said the province's ramp-up of these shots will start in September. The new invitations are expected to be for those older than 65 years.
B.C. lags the rest of Canada in terms of its percentage of the population that has had two booster doses because it has stricter eligibility than some other provinces.
Recent Health Canada data show that only 5.2 per cent of British Columbians have had two booster doses or four vaccine doses. That is last among the eight provinces that report such data. In Quebec, for example, 13.2 per cent of the population has had two booster doses, according to Health Canada.
B.C. only allows people to get second booster shots if they are 70 years of age or older, Indigenous people aged 55 years or older, in residential care homes or extremely clinically vulnerable.
Ballem said that one tweak to the province's regulations is that those who believe they are vulnerable can contact the BC Centre for Disease Control.
"If you really feel that you've got special circumstances, you can give the call centre a call, and we'll arrange for you to have a booster," she said.
She did not say whether health officials might reject someone's assertions that they are vulnerable.
The news of B.C.'s planned fall expansion of providing second booster shots follows Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) on June 30 urging provinces and territories to provide second booster shots against COVID-19 by this fall.
NACI said it "strongly" recommended providing the second booster shots to Canadians older than 65, residents in long-term care, those older than 12 years with medical conditions that put them at "high risk of severe" COVID-19, as well as people from Indigenous communities and racialized communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
Dix said that the province is following NACI's recommendations even though the province's policy is still only to provide second booster shots to those in the general population who are 70 years and older, not those aged 65 years and older.
Acting provincial health officer Martin Lavoie said that the most vulnerable group of British Columbians is those aged 80 years old and older, followed by those in the 70-to-80 age group. He added that those with COVID-19 who are in those groups of people are far more likely to end up in hospital.
As of yesterday, there were 369 British Columbian COVID-19 patients in hospitals. That is 35 per cent more than one week earlier. The dominant strain of the virus making the rounds in B.C. is BA.5, said Lavoie. It is unknown whether this is a more or less virulent strain than past mutations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19.
He, Dix and Ballem stressed that vaccinations effectively prevent COVID-19 illnesses, or at least make bouts of illness less severe.