As the province plans for future waves of COVID-19, British Columbia’s top doctor says it’s unclear whether all residents will need a fourth vaccine dose.
In her first public briefing in more than a month, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said it’s possible “only some people will need another dose,” such as seniors over the age of 70 and people who are clinically vulnerable.
“We do not yet know if all of us will need another dose of vaccine come the fall or if protection from the three doses will carry most of us through,” Henry said Tuesday.
“We need to find that balance of whether you need it and how long the protection will last.”
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends four doses — or second booster shots — to those in high-risk populations, including long-term care residents, immunocompromised individuals, Indigenous peoples, and those over the age of 70.
In B.C., nearly 78,400 people have already received a fourth dose, including those who are clinically vulnerable and those in long-term care. Health Minister Adrian Dix said next week, more than 70,000 people over the age of 70 will become eligible as well.
Indigenous people over the age of 55 are also eligible for a fourth dose.
Henry said the “cutoff” for a fourth dose was determined using the province’s infection and hospitalization data, which offers a glimpse into who has waning vaccine immunity based on the severity of their illness after three doses.
“It is people with severe clinically immune-compromising conditions — people with solid organ transplants, for example, (or) hematological malignancies,” she explained. “They need an extra boost.
“We’ve also seen there really is very good protection from three doses for most people, really up to age 80, but definitely up to age 70, and we’ve seen a little bit of an increase in hospitalizations over age 70.”
People in that age bracket were immunized first in B.C., so their immunity is decreasing more quickly. For most others, however, Henry said a third dose will be enough to get them past the Omicron variant and keep them out of the hospital.
The province will also monitor the data on third and fourth doses from other countries, she added.
Take-up on the fourth shot has been lower among eligible people than for the third shot, Dix said, but he hopes the numbers will improve in the coming weeks.
Alberta has had a similar experience.
It’s been nearly a month since that province started offering a fourth dose to people aged 70 and older, all First Nations, Métis and Inuit people 65 and older, and all seniors in supported living facilities. Just over 100,000 Albertans had received a fourth dose as of May 2, including seven per cent of eligible people between ages 70 and 74.
– With files from Carolyn Kury de Castillo
Editor’s Note: This article was updated to reflect that Indigenous people over the age of 55 are also eligible for a fourth dose in B.C.