Even though the province has nearly a quarter-million COVID-19 vaccine doses and administered about five thousand doses over the past week, it has no immediate schedule for expanding fourth dose eligibility.
Currently, people 50 and up are eligible, as are those with certain underlying health conditions and all those 18 and up who are living in long-term care or personal care settings.
“While booster dose eligibility may be expanded to additional age groups in the future, it will be based on the best available evidence and medical advice, including Health Canada and National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommendations,” a statement from Ministry of Health reads.
NACI’s current guidance on second COVID-19 boosters, published in early April, recommends authorities offer second boosters to all those 70 and up, as well as those living in care home or other congregate living settings with seniors.
According to the Ministry of Health there are about 250,000 vaccines in the provincial inventory with expiry dates ranging between July 20, 2022 and September 30, 2023. The province says as of June 14, 56,933 doses have been wasted.
“Doses the province does not anticipate utilizing prior to expiry have been offered to other provinces and territories or released back to the Public Health Agency of Canada reserve for use by other provinces or territories or for donation to other countries,” a ministry spokesperson said. “The amount of wastage will depend on the vaccine uptake by eligible populations.”
According to its June 16 epidemiological update, 49.3 per cent of those eligible for a third dose have gotten one in Saskatchewan.
Last week, during a briefing, Dr. Theresa Tam said that COVID-19 vaccine efficiency wanes significantly over time, from 50 to 80 per cent effectiveness down to 20 per cent or lower six months after the second dose.
Meanwhile, the government of Canada announced earlier this week plans to update its own definition of “fully vaccinated”.
“Although two doses still protects significantly well against severe disease and death, two doses are not enough now to protect against infection and transmission,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Tuesday during a press conference in Ottawa.
“That is why we are transitioning now to an ‘up-to-date’ vaccination definition of what it means to be adequately protected against COVID-19.”
Health experts add that the rise of potentially more contagious Omicron subvariants give more reason for all to stay as “up-to-date” as possible.
Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, first detected in South Africa in January and have been taking up greater proportions of detected variants in countries like the United States.
“The fact we’re seeing a BA.4 BA.5 increase in Canada is a concern, because we’re likely going to follow the same trajectories we’re seeing in Europe and the USA, which right now have us on the edge of our seats,” said McGill University Health Centre Clinical Biologist and Infectious Diseases Specialist Donald Vinh.
“Every one of these doses will actually help mature the immune response. It helps give you a fighting chance against BA.4 and B.5.”
University of Saskatchewan Epidemiologist Nazeem Muhajarine added that while evidence is still emerging about how waning vaccine efficacy could be impacted by these and more established variants.
Muhajarine said Saskatchewan residents can likely expect expanded vaccine access in the future.
“The evidence for fourth doses in people as compared to three doses is still emerging for the whole populations,” he said, adding he helped advised the province to lower second-dose eligibility to 50 and up in April.
“I think many people are thinking that vaccine booster doses for COVID-19 will become something like what we do for flu vaccines when the flu season comes along in the winter we look at the specific variant circulating and a specific formulation of vaccine is made available to people.”