Tens of thousands of available COVID-19 vaccine booster shot appointments have not been filled in B.C.
As the highly-mutated Omicron variant sweeps the province, Health Minister Adrian Dix said Friday that about 25,000 booster appointments are available for this week. There are 14,000 in the Interior Health region.
There were 7,000 open appointments last week, he said during the Dec. 24 pandemic press briefing.
“We still have unbooked capacity and are urging people to book when they receive their invitation,” Dix said.
“In the first three weeks of January, 203,000 are not yet booked with more appointments going up every day.”
As of Dec. 24, more than 807,000 British Columbians had received a third dose or booster dose of vaccine.
The province aims to complete its booster program by March 31, providing a 62-per-cent increase in clinic capacity across all health authorities in January.
Right now, residents who are 63 years of age or older are eligible to book a shot, along with Indigenous adults, residents of independent living or long-term care facilities, and health-care workers. People who are categorized as extremely vulnerable, and people who initially got two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, can also book an appointment.
At last official count, there were a total of 8,739 active COVID-19 cases in B.C. — 975 were the Omicron variant.
Dr. Birinder Narang, medical contributor for Global BC, said it’s important for the province to balance “what is prescribed and what is practical” as it continues its risk-based booster program, but thousands of booster appointments remain unfilled.
“What we need to do is also make sure we’re not wasting spots,” he said in an interview Sunday.
“We know that boosters are going to be needed, and I think there’s no advantage to keeping spots unused right now when we know there are people that do want them.”
While many questions remain unanswered about the new, highly-transmissible Omicron variant, he said the benefit of a booster shot is that “it’s looking more and more like it will keep you out of the hospital.”
“As Omicron is spreading we are seeing from around the world that people who have either one or two vaccines are more likely to get infected than those who have boosters,” Narang said.
While people who are fully-vaccinated have been infected by Omicron, recent research by the University of British Columbia suggests the variant is less able to evade the human antibody response for people fully-vaccinated people than those unvaccinated.
That research, which mapped Omicron’s spike protein at the molecular level, is awaiting peer review.
While some jurisdictions, including Ontario and the U.K., are offering booster shots just three months after residents received their second dose, B.C. has opted for a six-month interval.
Booster programs have rolled out differently around the world, said Narang, adding, we can’t draw too many conclusions from what’s happening elsewhere.
What’s important, he explained, is what the B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s data shows about breakthrough infections in the province and waning vaccine immunity.
Public health officials hope to administer 325,000 vaccine doses by the end of January.