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Pressure growing to change B.C. COVID-19 booster strategy amid Omicron uncertainty

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With Alberta announcing adults over age 60 can start booking a COVID-19 booster shot – and Ontario expected to announce a similar move for those over 50 on Thursday – pressure is mounting on B.C. health officials to do the same as concerns over the Omicron variant continue to grow.

While it’s not yet clear if Omicron is more contagious or deadly than Delta, governments around the world have started restricting international travel from some African countries and booster doses are being fast-tracked in many places.

On Tuesday, B.C.’s provincial health officer credited booster shots with helping reduce COVID-19 in hospitals, but was lukewarm to the idea of expanding their availability beyond the current access for those who are six months past their second dose and over 70, health-care workers, the immunocompromised and anyone with dual AstraZeneca doses. Everyone else will be eligible starting in January, six to eight months after their second dose. 

"I don't think it'll change, but everything is new; we are looking at the information that's coming around Omicron," said Dr. Bonnie Henry, noting she’s awaiting new guidelines that the National Advisory Committee on Immunization is expected to release this week.


One of the country’s most prominent epidemiologists has urged the province to take a more proactive approach. Speaking at a weekly webinar organized by a grassroots B.C. advocacy group – which is pushing for the use of rapid tests and eduation about airborne transmission of COVID-19 – Dr. David Fisman said he doesn’t think B.C. is doing “as well as it might.” 

Fisman, a professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, said while the jury is still out on whether Omicron is more dangerous than Delta, a proactive approach is preferable. When CTV News asked how much more contagious it would have to be to cause problems and potentially trigger a fifth wave, Fisman said it wouldn’t have to be much.

“There’s a lot of different moving parts going on … some estimates are 10 to 25 per cent more infective per day,” he said. “That can put you back into epidemic growth because these relatively small percentages – it’s like compound interest, it can really rev up growth a lot. So, it is a worry, and clearly I'm not the only one who thinks so because I'm not the one who shut down the flights out of different countries."

Fisman highlighted that Israel began fast-tracking third-dose boosters amidst surging cases and found considerable success in doing so.

“We don't have to wait to have a disaster and then react," he said. “We have (vaccine doses) in the country and they’re going in the garbage can.”


Henry acknowledged that even if the best-case scenario plays out and Omicron is no worse than the Delta strain of COVID-19, the winter is a risky time.

“The days are darker and colder and shorter and we’re spending more time indoors where this virus continues to spread more easily,” she warned. 

And while Henry has been reluctant to use the words “airborne” or “aerosol” in her descriptions of how COVID-19 spreads, Fisman has made it his mission to educate the public about the risks.

“Everybody can understand aerosol; it’s Canada so we can see our breaths 5 months of the year, so if you tell us that’s how this spreads, people can fill in the gaps in terms of how they should behave in different settings,” said Fisman, who also criticized B.C. public health officials’ secrecy around outbreaks.

“People have no ability to use available tools to protect themselves if they’re kept ignorant of risk.” Top Stories

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