Stay on top your immunizations, B.C. doctors warn ahead of fall ‘tripledemic’

Click to play video: 'B.C. preparing for fall ‘tripledemic’'
B.C. preparing for fall ‘tripledemic’
While many of us might not be thinking about a change in the season yet, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has been. The province is putting a plan in place to prepare after last year's terrible "tripledemic" of flu, RSV, and COVID-19. Richard Zussman reports – Aug 16, 2023

As families prepare for a return to school in September, the province’s top doctor is encouraging everyone keep their immunizations updated with a respiratory “tripledemic” possibly on the horizon.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza are expected to hit British Columbians — but not likely as hard as they did last year.

“There’s things we can control and things we can’t control,” she told Global News.

“One of the things we can’t control is the fact that viruses circulate and they tend to come in the winter months here in North America, so we need to be prepared for that.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. COVID-19 safety group pens open letter to province ahead of return to schools'
B.C. COVID-19 safety group pens open letter to province ahead of return to schools

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Monday found more than 75 per cent of Canadians had immunity from a COVID-19 infection by March of this year.

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Researchers at the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force looked at blood samples of thousands of Canadians of all ages collected between March 2020 and March 2023 and found the Omicron variant led to a rapid rise in infection-induced antibodies last year.

Omicron and its subvariants continue to be the dominant strains circulating in Canada, Henry said.

“We’re…not seeing a lot more severe cases, but that protection that we have against infection in the first place, we’re seeing that that decreases over time,” she explained. “One of the important things this fall will be getting the updated vaccine.”

Click to play video: 'Health Matters: NACI recommends getting a fall COVID booster shot'
Health Matters: NACI recommends getting a fall COVID booster shot

The B.C. government hopes to roll out a monovalent vaccine campaign against the XBB 1.5 subvariant in September or October. That vaccine is working its way through Health Canada’s approval process.

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The National Advisory Council on Immunization is recommending a fall booster shot, particularly for those over the age of 65, who live in long-term care homes, who are pregnant, or at high risk from other underlying medical conditions. The booster is also encouraged for Indigenous peoples, members of racialized communities and essential workers.

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The council said the booster should be taken at least six months after any previous dose.

Henry also advised anyone who lives with someone they need to protect — someone who can’t take the vaccine, for example, or who is not able to receive as much immunity from it — to get a booster as well.

Click to play video: 'New EG.5 variant detected in U.S. and U.K.'
New EG.5 variant detected in U.S. and U.K.

Last year, hospital wait times soared in many parts of the province as COVID-19, RSV and flu cases rose.

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The BC Children’s Hospital had to open an emergency satellite clinic to alleviate pressure on its packed emergency department, with some estimated  wait times exceeding 11 hours.

While concern is warranted about what’s coming this fall, infectious diseases expert Dr. Brian Conway said he’s “cautiously optimistic” B.C. has the tools to handle it.

“The first tool is vaccination and I would encourage all parents to consider getting their children vaccinated as soon as the new COVID vaccine and the new flu shot are available,” Conway said Tuesday.

“Second, to keep their kids home if they’re sick. We do those two things — we will do far better than I think some people expect.”

B.C. experienced higher spread of illness last fall likely because social isolation in the past two years meant RSV and the flu had not circulated enough to build up herd immunity, he added.

Click to play video: 'Canadians urged to get COVID-19 booster this fall'
Canadians urged to get COVID-19 booster this fall

The Ministry of Health is currently working with the Ministry of Education to equip schools with face masks and tools for hand hygiene, and ensure adequate ventilation is in place.

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Dr. Anna Wolak, a family physician in Vancouver, said parents may wish to think about N95 masks for their kids if they’re unsure about their school’s ventilation. She also reminded everyone to wash hands often, cough and sneeze into their elbows, and test for viruses when symptoms arise.

Click to play video: 'Respiratory illness back-to-school concerns'
Respiratory illness back-to-school concerns

“The things that we’ve all gotten used to over the last three-and-a-half years — now that it’s summer measures have relaxed a bit, but with the fall and the fact that we’re all going indoors and starting to share air, we need to look back on those layers of protection.”

Wolak said she’s concerned that the fall tripledemic could be dire again if uptake on boosters is poor.

Meanwhile, she said health-care workers continue to review their protocols for dealing with respiratory illnesses. Many of the measures implemented during the pandemic — such as increased cleaning and having masks and hand sanitizer on hand for patients — remain in place, Wolak added.

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— with files from Richard Zussman

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