B.C. launches spring COVID-19 vaccine booster program

B.C.’s health minister has announced a spring COVID-19 booster campaign, with shots recommended for seniors, Indigenous people over 55 and long-term care home residents in particular.Invitations to book a spring shot started rolling out Monday, according to Health Minister Adrian Dix.Dix also told reporters the province is changing its rules around mandatory mask-wearing in health-care settings, with health-care workers no longer required to mask in public settings amid a decline in reported COVID-19 infections. “We’re returning to the rules that were in place prior to respiratory illness season,” he said.”That’s an important change, and that’s reflected in the changes that we put in place today at the centre at the end of respiratory illness season,” he added. “It’s a pattern that probably you could expect to be repeated in future respiratory illness seasons as well.”Health Minister Adrian Dix says that B.C. saw a high level of vaccination uptake compared to other Canadian jurisdictions. (Ethan Cairns/CBC)The province said in a statement that health-care workers will continue to wear appropriate protective equipment if required by health-care facilities’ risk assessments.It also said people visiting health-care facilities are encouraged to wear masks, cover coughs and stay away from others when sick.The 2023-24 respiratory illness immunization campaign for the general population, launched on Oct. 10, resulted in almost 1.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine being administered and 1.56 million doses of influenza vaccine, according to the Health Ministry.Dix said British Columbians have been more supportive of COVID-19 immunization than residents of any other Canadian jurisdiction.”We have about two and a half times the level of take-up on our [COVID-19] immunization program as the province of Ontario,” the health minister said. “I have to say that that was reflected in the nature of transmission through the [respiratory illness] period.” The Health Ministry says about 3.9 million people in B.C. have yet to receive a booster shot against the XBB.1.5 Omicron variant of COVID-19.The province says around 3.9 million people have not received a COVID-19 vaccine targeting the XBB.1.5 variant of the virus. (Numstocker/Shutterstock)The vaccines will be offered at pharmacies, regional health authority clinics, primary care offices and community health centres.The statement says the peak of the respiratory illness season has passed, but COVID-19 continues to spread at lower levels in the community.It says protection provided by COVID-19 vaccines decreases over time, particularly for older people, and a spring booster will ensure protection.Andrew Longhurst, a Simon Fraser University health policy researcher, is critical of the province’s decision to drop mandatory masking rules in health-care settings.”Masks in health care is very low-hanging fruit if we want to preserve a functioning health-care system,” he told CBC News. “When you’re pulling masks out of health-care settings, that’s a real occupational risk to workers.”Longhurst says the comparatively low uptake of booster vaccines during the 2023 respiratory illness season, compared to previous years, was due to authorities downplaying the risks of COVID-19.The researcher said authorities need to be upfront with the public about the potential long-term effects of the disease.

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