The independent B.C. COVID-19 modelling group’s latest report, released Wednesday, says the province is already facing a third Omicron wave, driven by the highly-transmissible BA.5 variant.
“Anybody with any health concerns should absolutely be getting boosted if they’re eligible and can get one right now,” said UBC mathematical biologist and modelling group member Sarah Otto.
“Our next wave is not going to be a fall wave. It’s going to be a summer wave.”
On Tuesday, the World Health Organization warned the virus is “running freely and countries are not effectively managing the disease burden,” and that the BA.5 subvariant spreads at a “very intense level.”
The B.C. report found that the BA.5 variant currently makes up about 80 per cent of all cases circulating in the province.
It projects the latest wave will peak at some point in August, but Otto said forecasting case counts or hospitalizations in particularly difficult this time around for several reasons.
Those include questions about how much immunity British Columbians still have from boosters or infections with other variants, along with unknowns about BA.5’s virulence and ability to evade immunity.
“Given the how how many people have recently had Omicron, we’re probably talking about the BA.5 (wave) being more similar to our second BA.2 wave in terms of number of cases,” Otto said.
“My worry is that we’ll actually have more hospitalizations and deaths because the people most vulnerable, our elders have not been immunized in a much longer time … Only I think about 50 per cent of our 70-plus individuals have been boosted, and that’s just not enough protection.”
As of last Thursday, there were 369 cases of COVID-19 in hospital — a jump of nearly 100 from the week prior. Hospital admissions stopped falling in the province last month, and have increased in each of the last two reporting periods.
British Columbia health officials held a briefing Friday in which they encouraged people to get a fourth shot this fall, but conceded people could get one sooner if they felt they needed one.
B.C. officials suggested the vaccines available in the fall would be better formulated to address the most recent variants.
Otto said with cases and hospitalizations rising, and evidence about Omicron BA.5’s spread from Eastern Canada offering a window to the future, people should begin taking precautions again now and consider a booster if they feel they’re at risk.
“We’re going to see an increasing demand on hospitals and increasing death rates over the next month or two — but we also know the drill, we know what works: wear masks, effective N95s, increase ventilation and do as much of your partying outdoors (as you can),” she said.
“Don’t wait for that Omicron specific booster, get a booster now. In the future, your next dose, that will be the variant specific dose.”