Starting as early as this week, booster shots will be given out to those who received transplants, patients with hematological cancers, people who received an anti-CD20 agent as well as residents in long-term care homes, higher-risk retirement homes and First Nations elder-care lodges. The province made the announcement on Tuesday.
This comes days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized a booster dose for people with compromised immune systems on Thursday. There are also reports that U.S. experts will recommend COVID-19 vaccine boosters for all Americans, regardless of age, eight months after they received their second dose of the shot.
There is growing evidence in support of boosters for immunocompromised people due to the higher risk of waning immunity among them.
Long-term care residents were among the earliest in Ontario to receive their shots.
Donna Duncan, CEO of the Ontario Long Term Care Association (OLTCA), welcomed the province’s decision to offer a third booster shot of the vaccine for long-term care residents to maintain protection amid a fourth wave of COVID-19 fuelled by the Delta variant.
But experts are still divided over the broad use of COVID-19 vaccine boosters among those without underlying problems as the benefits remain undetermined.
“I certainly don’t think we need to mobilize the entire community to get a third dose,” said Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious disease specialist and a medical microbiologist at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC).
Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Sinai Health and University Health Network hospitals in Toronto, said the issue of a third dose treaded on “complicated territory,” as many countries were still trying to access limited supplies to vaccinate their population with a first and second dose.
He told Global News that while a third dose could provide greater benefit for the vulnerable population, the evidence is not necessarily “100 per cent clear that this will make a substantial difference,” he said.
“The booster shot is meant to … boost that immunity level back up to continue giving people a certain level of protection,” Sinha said.
“But we don’t necessarily have clear evidence to show what the impact of a third booster shot will be on actually protecting people from getting severe consequences of COVID-19, i.e., ending up in hospital and/or dying.”
It also remains to be seen what the right time to give boosters is, Sinha said.
Currently, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is not recommending a third dose of COVID-19 vaccines, but is looking at data on the potential need or benefit of an additional dose in order to mount a reasonable immune response that is more comparable to the general population.
“NACI is currently reviewing relevant studies and will update its recommendations in the coming weeks,” said Anna Maddison, a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), in an emailed statement to Global News.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Saskatchewan gave the greenlight for additional doses for residents who may require them for international travel.
Residents who received a combination of AstraZeneca, Pfizer or Moderna can now receive a third dose of vaccine to match their last vaccine brand, as long as their last vaccination was Pfizer or Moderna, the provincial government said in a statement.
“Individuals who received two doses of Covishield or AstraZeneca are able to complete a schedule to support international travel requirements with two additional matching mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer or Moderna,” read the government statement.
“Proof of intent to travel will not be required to receive the vaccination,” it added.
Other provinces have yet to make a decision on booster shots. Alberta is among them.
“We are not offering booster shots at this time, but we are watching the research and data surrounding booster shots closely and awaiting recommendations from the NACI,” Lisa Glover, a spokesperson for Alberta Health, told Global News in a statement.
“We expect to have a decision in September,” she added.
For now, B.C.’s Ministry of Health said the province remains focused on getting the greatest number of people fully vaccinated with two doses.
“We are keeping an eye on any new evidence that could suggest the need for additional doses for specific circumstances, or the possible need for booster doses as a standard at some point in the future,” the ministry told Global News in a statement.
Like Alberta, Quebec is also waiting for recommendations from public health experts.
“All options are on the table. No decision has yet been made,” said Noémie Vanheuverzwijn, a spokesperson for Quebec’s Ministry of Health and Social Services (MSSS).
Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island did not respond to a request from Global News by the time of publication.
— with files from Reuters, the Associated Press