New Brunswick is lowering the age of eligibility for second COVID-19 booster doses to 18, because the province is seeing increased case numbers and signs of “heightened activity.”
Second booster doses — which would be a fourth shot of a vaccine — will be available at pharmacies and some public health clinics. Anyone aged 18 and older can get their second booster, if five months have passed since the last dose.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, said in an interview the decision was based on current trends in New Brunswick and across Canada. She added there are indications the province is at the start of a period of “heightened” virus activity driven by Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.
“I can say that we’re going to see some increases. How high they go and how quickly, that I can’t say,” she told Global News on Tuesday.
“It’s the transmissibility, so if you don’t want to get COVID and you know there’s a lot of BA.4 and BA.5 circulating, you would want to take more precautions at this time.”
Just one week ago, on July 5, Russell said that the province was staying the course on its vaccine rollout.
“I don’t see any policy changes happening immediately,” she said at the time, although she noted she was speaking weekly with her counterparts across Canada to discuss fourth doses.
In Tuesday’s interview, Russell said the changing epidemiology in the province could be based on several factors, including waning immunity, more comfort around social gatherings and higher levels of travel.
“We are seeing cases go up, so we are just cognizant of that,” she said.
While other provinces, including Ontario and Quebec, have declared a seventh wave of COVID-19, Russell stops short of doing that for New Brunswick.
“So people have different terms that they like to use when we see an increased number of cases, whether it’s a wave, a surge a blip,” she said.
Fourth dose eligibility differ by province
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recently updated its guidance on booster shots for the fall, in advance of a future wave.
It recommended 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.”
NACI also recommended 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.
Some provinces and territories have already expanded their fourth dose eligibility.
Prince Edward Island recommends a second booster for everyone aged 12 and over, while saying second boosters are “especially recommended” for those over 65 or those with underlying medical conditions.
In Nova Scotia, people aged 50 and older are eligible for a second booster, though public health recommends people under 70 wait until the fall before getting another shot.
Last week, British Columbia issued a recommendation that people 12 and older receive a booster in the fall, and planned to send out booking invites based on age.
Four deaths in latest update
New Brunswick also released its weekly COVID-19 update on Tuesday.
The report shows four people died due to the virus between July 3 and 9, bringing the total number of deaths to 433.
There are 17 people in hospital, and two patients in ICU.
During that period, 1,044 new positive PCR tests were recorded, as well as 1,421 self-reported positive rapid tests.
Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and professor at the University of Ottawa, says the highly-contagious BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants are not to be underestimated.
“Any advantages that the Atlantic provinces have experienced in the past really have diminished with the hyper contagiousness of these new versions of the disease,” Deonandan said.
“If you’ve had COVID very, very recently, in the past, that meant you got a few months of immunity. Now that is not as solid.”
In a news release, the province encouraged New Brunswickers to “assess and manage their personal risk.”
Risk factors include being aged 50 and older, being immunocompromised, having chronic conditions and not being fully vaccinated.
The province further went to advise people who have high risk actors to “consider additional preventive measures” such as avoiding or limiting time spent in crowded or poorly ventilated indoor spaces, minimizing contact with people who have cold-like symptoms and continuing to mask, distance and hand wash.
The indoor masking mandate, gathering limits and isolation rules for the public were removed on March 14 when the province lifted all COVID-19 restrictions.
— with a file from Teresa Wright and Robert Lothian.