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Canada COVID-19 booster update coming ‘very shortly’: Tam

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Canadians can expect an update on the potential use of additional COVID-19 shots for the most at-risk “very shortly,” the country’s top doctor says.

Speaking at a news conference Friday morning, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam told reporters she expects the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) will make recommendations on whether or not additional doses for those at the highest risk are needed.

In particular, the committee is looking at those who received a COVID-19 vaccine around the beginning of the year, Tam added.

“So that includes, for example, those in long-term care homes or congregate living for seniors,” she said. “So I expect the committee to have their deliberations completed on this group … very shortly.”

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Tam did not elaborate on a timeline further, but her comments come after the United States approved booster shots for Americans aged 65 and older, adults with underlying medical conditions and adults in high-risk settings, like a workplace or congregate living.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) endorsed the plan on Thursday, which is in line with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s authorization of the extra shot earlier this week.

Pfizer-BioNTech is the vaccine of choice. The extra shots will also be rolled out in long-term care facilities and are open to more than 20 million Americans who received their second Pfizer shot more than six months ago.

Read more: U.S. CDC overrules advisors, recommends COVID-19 boosters for all high-risk people

Tam said in addition to looking at American data on boosters, Canada has its own measures to follow as its vaccine approach is different.

“For example, while we use the mRNA vaccines that are the same as the United States, many Canadians actually had an extended interval compared to the United States, and what the data is showing us is that the extended interval produces a more robust immune response and vaccine effectiveness is better with a longer interval,” she said.

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“So the Canadian data must be analyzed on top of what we’re gathering from the international community as well, and we are taking a thorough, thoughtful and phased approach to looking at additional doses.”

Read more: NACI backs 3rd dose of COVID-19 vaccine for immunocompromised

Canada has already OK’d additional doses for some immunocompromised individuals, announcing the new measure on Sept. 10.

“NACI continues to examine the need for booster doses, which unlike additional doses are intended to restore initially adequate immune protection that may have waned over time,” Tam said at the time.

Booster shots, however, continue to be a divisive issue among health experts and internationally.

Read more: COVID-19 vaccine inequity now top of mind at United Nations meeting

Vaccine inequity was among the agenda items at the United Nations’ annual meeting this week. The leaders of many African countries, whose populations have little to no access to the shots, spoke out.

It is “of great concern” that the global community has not supported the principles “of solidarity and co-operation in securing equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines,” Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s president, said.

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“It is an indictment on humanity that more than 82 per cent of the world’s vaccine doses have been acquired by wealthy countries, while less than one per cent has gone to low-income countries.”

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On Wednesday during a global COVID-19 summit, President Joe Biden announced the U.S. would double its purchase of Pfizer’s shots to share one billion doses with the world, in an effort to vaccinate 70 per cent of the global population within the next year.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was also in attendance, committed to that goal.

“In order to get this done, Canada will build on the important progress we have made so far, and focus on increasing the production, availability, and delivery of vaccines,” a read-out of the summit said.

“To date, Canada has contributed more than $2.5 billion to help address this crisis globally. We have also committed to sharing tens of millions of vaccine doses with the rest of the world, including through the COVAX facility.”

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Tam said on Friday that more than 80 per cent of Canada’s eligible population is now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. According to Johns Hopkins University, 32.71 per cent of the world’s population is fully inoculated.

Earlier this month, University of Toronto bioethics professor Kerry Bowman told Global News that Canada needs to fight the pandemic with a global approach.

“Booster shots may well be required for immunocompromised people and a subset of people, (but) I think in the short term, we should not have widespread booster shots — meaning third doses — at all, for ethical reasons and epidemiological reasons,” he said.

“We really have to start making a deeper commitment to the larger world to protect ourselves and because it’s the right thing to do.”

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–with files from Reuters and The Associated Press

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