New Brunswick’s Health Minister tells Global News the province will open up its COVID-19 booster dose eligibility in the next few days, accelerating its previously-announced plan.
“We’ll be announcing for early next week the change in ages, lowering those ages,” Dorothy Shephard says.
“Chances are we’re probably going to go to 30-plus.”
Currently, New Brunswickers 50 and older are eligible for their third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, as well as select others deemed vulnerable to the virus.
Until now, the timeline set by the Department of Health saw eligibility open up to 40-plus in mid-January, then 30-plus at the end of the month.
Shephard doesn’t say why things are picking up, but boasts the province’s capability to dole out over 40,000 doses a week.
“We have the capacity to do 42,000 appointments per week,” she says. “We could stretch to 55 to 60,000 if we get the demand.”
Still, the province currently lags behind almost all other Canadawide in terms of booster eligibility age.
As of Thursday, Quebec is the only other province limiting general eligibility to residents 50 and older, and Quebec plans to open bookings up more through January.
Nova Scotia is already booking for those 30 and over.
For all other provinces, bookings are available for those 18 and older.
Shephard says it makes sense for New Brunswick to stick with the older age bracket a little longer than others, given the province’s population is on average older than its neighbours.
Experts say the lag is logical in getting further protection for more vulnerable people.
“This makes sense because we know risk of severe disease increases with age,” says St. John’s-based virologist and immunologist Dr. Rodney Russell.
“Presumably this age group would have also received their second shot earlier than groups younger than them, which puts them farther out from their last shot, which means their immunity could have waned more than younger age groups.”
Also in St. John’s, epidemiologist Susanne Gulliver says opening eligibility to younger age groups seems to have had its downsides.
“Here in Newfoundland and Labrador it’s turned into a bit of a free-for-all with appointments disappearing,” she says.
“Just this week they started having walk-in clinics for people aged 70-plus to try and get them boosted because they are at a higher risk.”
Shephard says she doesn’t see the narrower eligibility in New Brunswick as putting the province behind others, pointing out the speed of third dose rollout is mixed with some 5 to 12-year-old residents getting their first and second doses.
“So that takes up appointments as well,” she says.
Shephard says Public Health will also announce soon a revised date for those 18 and older to schedule third doses, encouraging older New Brunswickers to book their booster before the shots are taken by younger arms.