The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is recommending vaccine booster shots this fall in advance of a possible future wave of COVID-19 in Canada.
The guidance issued Wednesday recommends Canadians at increased risk of serious illness from COVID-19 should be offered a fall booster dose “regardless of the number of booster doses previously received.”
It says this should include people 65 years of age and older, residents of long-term care or living facilities, and individuals 12 years of age and older with an underlying medical condition that places them at high risk of severe COVID-19.
The recommendation also includes adults in Indigenous, racialized and marginalized communities where infection can have disproportionate consequences, as well as quarters for migrant workers, shelters, correctional facilities and group homes.
NACI also recommends that boosters may be offered to all other individuals from 12 to 64 years of age, regardless of how many booster doses they have previously received.
It says it will provide recommendations on the type of COVID-19 vaccine to be offered for this booster dose as evidence on appropriate vaccines becomes available.
NACI notes that while the likelihood, timing and severity of a future wave of the pandemic is uncertain, an increase in cases is possible in late fall and winter as people spend more time indoors.
COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations have fallen steeply from the peak of the sixth wave early this year, but those numbers have flatlined over the past couple of weeks.
There are currently around 3,000 patients currently in hospital with COVID-19, including about 190 Canadians in intensive care, while the country is still seeing an average of 18 deaths per day.
Public health officials have urged boosters to counter more transmissible variants and subvariants of COVID-19, including the BA.2 Omicron subvariant that fueled the sixth wave.
Yet despite more than 80 per cent of Canadians having received two required vaccine doses, less than half have received their first booster, while only nine per cent have had four doses, according to public health data.
Many provinces have expanded eligibility for a fourth dose of the vaccine this spring, dropping the age cut-off to include middle-age individuals and younger Indigenous residents.
Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam predicted earlier this month that there will be “a significant campaign” to get more people vaccinated later this year ahead of the colder seasons.
She noted “many more people” need to get boosters, adding Canadians should do all they can to protect themselves even if certain measures, like masks and additional vaccine doses, aren’t recommended under public health measures.
“The virus has not left the stage,” she told reporters at a June 17 news conference. “It continues to circulate, it will go up and down.”
—With files from the Canadian Press