Skip to main content

Vaccine doses for 'everyone' this fall, B.C. minister says as next COVID-19 wave approaches

With researchers anticipating another COVID-19 wave this summer, B.C. health officials are once again urging the public to get vaccinated – especially the 1.3 million residents sitting on unused booster invitations.

The independent COVID-19 Modelling Group has predicted the Omicron subvariant BA.5, which is believed to account for the majority of new cases, will fuel another wave that could peak in August, though it's unclear what impact that will have on the province's already strained health-care system.

"My prediction is that the cases are going to go up, hospitalizations are going to go up, but my current hope is that it won't be as bad as the BA.2 wave," researcher Dr. Sarah Otto told The Canadian Press last week. 

On Monday, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said the province's pandemic response planning is currently focussed on the likelihood of a "very challenging fall," and suggested second boosters will be a key aspect of the government's strategy.

"Everyone should be planning to get another dose in the fall – everybody," Dix said during a news conference related to the development of a new hospital in Surrey

The minister suggested the next booster could be tailored to particular strains of COVID-19, similar to annual flu shots, but noted the current vaccines have proven effective at decreasing the chances of hospitalizations and severe illness through a series of variants and subvariants.

Asked whether the government could bring back any of its previous COVID-19 restrictions, such as the indoor mask mandate, Dix said the province will once again be following the advice of public health officials.

"No option is ever excluded," he added, noting that officials still recommend mask use indoors.

"I'm the minister of health, I have access to a lot of information about health care; I wear masks in indoor public spaces," Dix said.

In the meantime, the minister pointed out there remain more than a million British Columbians who have, for whatever reason, not responded to their invitation for a first booster.

"Right now, it's important if you're called to get your vaccine – fourth, third, second or first – to get it," he said.

COVID-19 hospitalizations have been on the decline for weeks, though the province has recently recorded an increase in the number of health-care workers sidelined by illness. Some 16,400 health workers took at least one day off work during the week of June 20, Dix said, up from the approximately 15,000 recorded a few weeks prior.

The highest levels of illness are being recorded in regions with higher transmission, in particular Northern Health, Interior Health and Island Health.

Hospital Employees’ Union co-ordinator of policy and planning Mike Old said health-care workers are facing an “alarming” situation when it comes to COVID-19.

“We’re seeing health-care vacancies due to illness that we haven’t seen since late January,” he said. “Workers are really, really burned out.”

Old said a poll of their members found one in four said their employers don’t backfill for illnesses or other vacancies, and one in three are thinking about leaving health care in the next two years.

“It’s really important that members of our community understand that when they’re protecting themselves against the transmission of COVID, they’re also protecting our health-care system,” he said. “Our health-care workers need all the help they can get.”

BC Nurses' Union president Aman Grewal said nurses are also burnt out and short staffed, and while hospitalizations are lower compared to the past, there are still COVID-19 patients needing high-level care.

“This hasn't gone away. There is another wave happening, and there may be another one in the fall,” she said. “We’re seeing less and less people wearing face masks as well. And they’re gathering and going out in public spaces that they weren’t before, so the spread is happening.”

Grewal said with the current short staffing, nurses may be taking on others’ assignments as well.

“There hasn’t been a break for our nurses at all,” she said. “They are going to get worn out, they are going to get tired, they are exposed to the virus, and they will get sick.”

Both health-care unions said investing in recruiting and retaining workers is critical. 

After two years of the pandemic, public health care has been strained across Canada, with staffing issues leading to delayed treatments and, in some cases, temporary emergency room closures

Dix said B.C. is making preparations to shore up "every facility in our health-care system," while recruiting and training more workers to brace for whatever pandemic-related curveballs may arise during the next respiratory illness season.

"We are planning for what we're going to face in the fall," he said, "but we don't know what we're going to face in the fall." Top Stories

Stay Connected