COVID-19: Spring vaccination campaign shifting focus to most at-risk, MLHU says

Needles are seen filled with the vaccination for COVID-19 at a truck stop on highway 91 North in Delta, B.C., Wednesday, June 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Residents at higher risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes will be the focus of the local vaccination effort through the spring, officials with the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) say.

It comes after Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said Thursday that those considered high-risk, like residents 65 and older and residents who are pregnant, should get a booster dose this spring if it’s been six months since their last dose or COVID-19 infection.

“This is a bit of a shift in terms of the booster campaigns. Previously, everybody would have been eligible, but the evidence is still emerging as to whether or not everybody needs a booster dose right now,” said Dr. Alex Summers, medical officer of health for London and Middlesex.

High-risk residents also include those living in senior care facilities, those 18 and older who are immunocompromised, and those who are First Nations, Inuit or Metis who are 55 or older, along with their non-Indigenous household members of the same age.

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Those aged five and older who have not received a COVID-19- booster since Sept. 1, 2022 are recommended to do so if at least six months have passed since their last infection.

Residents not at high-risk and who have received a booster since Sept. 1, 2022 will be eligible for another booster dose closer to the fall of 2023, according to the health unit.

Moore released a report last month that stressed the need for Ontario to maintain public health preparedness ahead of future pandemics.

“This move isn’t about restricting access to the vaccine. We’re not dealing with a lack of availability of vaccine like we were earlier on in the pandemic response,” Summers said.

“The reason for the shift is that the evidence has shown, and the National Advisory Committee on Immunisation has released statements on this, that the people that are going to benefit the most right now are the people at highest risk,” he continued.

“The general population, at this time, the evidence doesn’t show a benefit from an additional booster if you’ve had one since September of 2022.”

Summer says the health unit has been preparing for the spring eligibility shift, expanding availability at the city’s mass vaccination clinic at the Western Fair District, and working with long-term care and retirement homes to ensure booster doses are available to residents.

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Nearly 1.4 million COVID-19 doses have been administered in the London and Middlesex region since December 2020.

About 90 per cent of local residents five and older have completed a primary series of the COVID-19 vaccine, considered the first two doses.

As of March 26, roughly 20 per cent of residents five and older had completed a primary series and had received a booster in the last six months.

The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered locally has fallen significantly compared to other times during the pandemic, with a total of 836 doses handed out the week of March 26, including 350 at the Western Fair clinic.

That’s compared to 2,025 the week of March 27, 2022, and 14,992 the week of March 28, 2021, health unit data shows.

“Certainly when we look back at the heyday of the COVID vaccine, the numbers are much, much lower now as they will be, “Summers said.

“But we continue to have opportunities for people to be vaccinated through the health unit’s mass vaccination site at the Western Fair and through pharmacies throughout the region.”

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Vaccination spikes were recorded in early and mid-2021 when the vaccine became widely available, and in late 2021 and early 2022 when the Omicron variant began to circulate for the first time.

The week with the most vaccine doses administered in the last 12 months was the week of Oct. 16, 2022, with 11,623 doses.

In March, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said that population immunity was high due to an overall high vaccine uptake, combined with immunity from infection.

“We do anticipate increased numbers with the announcement of this booster campaign, and we are preparing as we speak for what the fall might look like in Middlesex-London,” Summers said.

“Generally speaking, we are seeing a gradual decline in COVID transmission in our region. It’s not gone away, though, and that’s why it’s so critical for folks to be up-to-date with their COVID vaccine, to continue to stay home if they’re unwell and wash their hands regularly.”

— with files from The Canadian Press

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