With the arrival of the latest COVID-19 variants within the country and the looming flu season on the horizon, many Canadians may be wondering if they should get their booster shot immediately or wait until the newest vaccine formulations arrive.
The updated booster shots are expected to roll out in the fall but are still pending approval by Health Canada. The new vaccines are also tailored to the dominant XBB.1.5 Omicron subvariants that are currently circulating in the country.
Although bivalent COVID-19 vaccines are currently available in Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) previously said in July that the fall boosters will target more recent, immune‑evasive SARS-CoV-2 variants.
Some health experts say you might be better off waiting until the updated vaccines are available, while others say not to wait. This leaves Canadians grappling with a crucial decision: whether to get their booster shot immediately or hold off.
“It is it is well and truly confusing,” Kerry Bowman, a professor of bioethics and global health at the University of Toronto, said. “I think we’re getting an incredible lack of clarity as to what should occur. I wish we had stronger guidelines from public health. I feel like we’re on our own on this one.”
Adding to the confusion, he said, is the fact that some people have said they will get both shots, one now and the reformulated version when it becomes available. However, this approach is discouraged, Bowman said, emphasizing that it is advisable to wait at least six months between vaccine shots.
Here’s what health officials are saying about the fall booster shot.
What NACI is saying
In its latest guidance on July 11, “NACI recommends a dose of the new formulation of COVID-19 vaccine for people in the authorized age groups who have previously received a COVID-19 vaccine, if it has been at least 6 months since the last COVID-19 vaccine dose or known SARS-CoV-2 infection (whichever is later).”
It noted the new formulations expected this fall should provide a better immune response to the dominant subvariants. It did not specify whether Canadians should get the current formulation of the booster if the updated version was not available by fall.
“Booster doses in the fall will be formulations updated to target more recent, immune‑evasive SARS-CoV-2 variants,” NACI said in its updated vaccine recommendations.
“Individuals vaccinated with the updated formulation are expected to benefit from a better immune response against these variants compared to current vaccines.”
It emphasized is particularly important for those at increased risk of COVID-19 infection or severe disease including those 65 and over, long-term care residents, people who are pregnant and those with underlying conditions, to get immunized.
What Health Canada is saying
In an email to Global News on Monday, a spokesperson from Health Canada said it encourages “all Canadians to make sure that their COVID-19 vaccination is up to date.”
“Vaccination is one of the most effective ways to protect against COVID-19. All approved COVID-19 vaccines used in Canada continue to be very effective at protecting against severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.”
The health agency did not specify in its response whether Canadians should wait until the updated formulations become available.
The health department’s website is in line with NACI’s guidance, stating that COVID-19 booster doses may be offered at an interval of six months after a previous COVID-19 vaccine dose (after completion of the primary series or previous booster dose) or SARS-CoV-2 infection, regardless of the product offered.
Bivalent vaccines are the preferred vaccine for booster doses among individuals in the authorized age groups, Health Canada stated on its website, in addition to containing mRNA that encodes the spike protein of the original strain, they contain mRNA that encodes the spike protein of strains of the Omicron variant of concern.
NACI’s updated guidelines have not been added to the Health Canada website.
What the WHO is saying
The World Health Organization on Thursday said it recommends getting a booster or additional dose within six to 12 months, depending on your risk category.
Those who are most at risk should get their booster right away if they are due for one, said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO technical lead on the COVID-19 response, during a WHO question and answer session on social media.
For those who are most at risk, it is “very critical that you get a booster, and don’t wait,” she stressed. “The big message I have for you is don’t wait for the next round of vaccines.”
Previously, on March 28, the WHO said it no longer “routinely recommends” additional COVID-19 vaccine boosters for medium or low-risk people.
The WHO recommended additional booster doses for high-priority groups such as older people, immunocompromised people of all ages, front-line health workers and pregnant people. But for those who fall under the low and medium-risk group, WHO did not recommend additional COVID-19 boosters, citing “low public health returns.”
What health experts are saying
A strong majority of Canadians have hybrid immunity from the virus through natural infection and vaccines.
Because of this, Bowman said part of the confusion surrounding the COVID-19 fall booster is “understandable.”
“This is a very different pandemic profile than what we’ve been dealing with in the past, and whether to get a booster now or later could depend on the risks that that you are facing,” he explained. “So the short answer is, if you have risk factors, go ahead and get it now. ”
But there’s a lot of grey area.
For example, he said if someone is a healthy 25-year-old, but is living with a person who has advanced cancer and is going through chemotherapy, this creates uncertainty.
“We’re getting an incredible lack of clarity as to what should occur,” he said, adding that because there are new variants circulating, the level of risk and appropriate precautions have become even more challenging to determine.
With so much uncertainty, Bowman argued now is not the time for public health to go quiet, but instead, it’s a time for more guidance.
“I think most of us understand it’s no longer one size fits all, but we still need a lot more help with it than what we’re getting,” he said.
Dawn Bowdish, an immunologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, told the Canadian Press the mutating virus puts vulnerable populations, including the elderly, most at risk of infection.
However, only about 21 per cent of Canadians aged 80 and over have received boosters or completed a primary vaccination series in the last six months, she said.
Anyone starting chemotherapy or having major surgery may consider getting a booster before the reformulated vaccines are available but it’s otherwise best to wait, Bowden stressed.
However, for most people, “waiting for that new formulation of a booster dose in the fall will be the way to go because they already have enough immunity by having COVID-19 or having all of their complete vaccine doses and they’re otherwise healthy,” explained University of Saskatchewan epidemiologist Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine.
For those who are at higher risk, he said to get a booster shot as soon as possible.
Dr. Gerald Evans, an infectious disease specialist at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., said it would be ideal if XBB vaccines were available now before the flu season began.
“It would be great to have it as early as possible,” he said. “Once Health Canada says ‘yes we approve,’ then the manufacturer is the part that creates a bit of a delay. My hope is that delay will be extremely short-lived as there are a lot of people who are due for boosters now, including young, healthy people, where we say just get it once a year.”
He added that if “we can get those out and into people’s arms in September,” it could potentially help curb the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases.
What is the status of the fall COVID-19 booster?
Health Canada is currently reviewing three new vaccine vaccines containing the XBB.1.5 Omicron subvariant, for those six months and older. It is reviewing submissions from Pfizer-BioNtech, Moderna and Novavax.
While no specific rollout date has been established, it is anticipated that Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will likely receive approval in the fall, with the Novavax shot following at a later date, Health Canada said in an email Monday.
“The authorization and availability of new vaccines will depend on many factors including the submission date, the review timelines, the acceptability of the information submitted and the supply of the vaccine by the manufacturer. If authorized, Canada will have ample supply of the new formulation of mRNA vaccines available in Fall 2023,” the spokesperson stated.
Canada will also have access to non-mRNA vaccine (Novavax) for those who are unwilling or unable to receive an mRNA shot, Health Canada said.
“We are anticipating it will be available later this year, pending a submission to, and authorization by, Health Canada.”
Public Services and Procurement Canada told Global News in an email Monday that it has agreements in place to procure the latest COVID-19 vaccines, ensuring Canada has the right quantity of doses it needs for 2023 to 2024.
“This includes agreements with Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax, currently allowing for up to 33 million doses that will be manufactured from their respective off-shore facilities and delivered in the fall/winter 2023, pending Health Canada regulatory approvals,” the spokesperson said.
Where do other countries stand on COVID-19 boosters?
Like Canada, the rollout of the COVID-19 booster shots in the United States is expected in the fall, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The updated booster is expected to be cleared by the FDA ahead of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vaccine advisory panel, which is scheduled to meet on Sept. 12 to vote on whether to recommend the updated vaccines, NBC News reported.
In England health officials on Wednesday said vaccinations will be available starting Sept. 11 (rather than the original October release date) as a precautionary measure intended to protect the most vulnerable as the winter months approach.
— with files from the Canadian Press
The Key Role of Trustworthy Babysitters in Balancing Work and Family Life
Are you a busy parent in constant pursuit of the elusive work-life balance? We know firsthand how overwhelming and challenging it can be to juggle professional commitments while still having quality time with your children.
That’s why we’re here to discuss an essential ingredient that unlocks the secret to harmony: trustworthy babysitters.
What Characteristics Parents Should Look for When Choosing a Babysitter?
Parents should look for a few key characteristics when choosing a babysitter. A good babysitter should be patient, responsible, and reliable. They should also be comfortable with children and have prior experience caring for them.
Besides, the babysitter must be able to communicate effectively and follow directions well. The babysitter should be someone the parents can trust to care for their children in their absence.
Strategies for Parents to Establish Reasonable Anticipations
As a parent, finding babysitters you can trust to care for your children is vital. However, it is also important to establish reasonable expectations for your babysitters.
Some tips for establishing reasonable expectations for babysitters include:
- Set clear expectations: Sit down with your babysitter to discuss bedtime routines, dietary preferences, and any necessary medications.
- Allow flexibility: While clarity is vital, also provide room for your babysitter to use their judgment and feel comfortable in their role.
- Trust their expertise: Once expectations are set, trust your babysitter’s judgment as a professional caregiver to avoid undermining their authority and creating discomfort in their role.
Determining a Fair Payment Plan
Determine your babysitting budget, factoring in your income and family size, while researching local rates. Account for the babysitter’s experience and qualifications, giving preference to those recommended by trusted sources.
Engage in open negotiations with your chosen babysitter. This aims to find a mutually agreeable arrangement that accommodates both your budget and their needs.
Tips on Finding Trustworthy and Compassionate Caregivers
When seeking a caregiver for your child, to ensure you find the right fit:
- Seek recommendations from trusted sources such as friends, family, and neighbours who may have suggestions for caregivers in your area.
- Conduct online research to review feedback and check references to gauge candidates’ qualifications and experience.
- Request references and contact details from the caregivers’ previous employers or families they have worked with.
- Trust your instincts and ensure you feel at ease with the caregiver, ensuring they are someone you can entrust with your child’s well-being.
Being able to trust your babysitter means you can have peace of mind knowing your child is safe and cared for.
Spending some time researching online reviews or asking friends and family for recommendations will help you find the perfect fit so you can feel more at ease while juggling work commitments in today’s hectic world.
Facility-wide COVID-19 outbreak at Bethammi Nursing Home
THUNDER BAY — St. Joseph’s Care Group and the Thunder Bay District Health Unit have declared a facility-wide COVID-19 outbreak at Bethammi Nursing Home, part of the St. Joseph’s Heritage complex on Carrie Street near Red River Road.
The respiratory outbreak at the 112-bed facility was declared effective Sept. 15 but only announced publicly on Monday.
No details were provided with regard to the number of people affected to date.
Restrictions are now in place for admissions, transfers, discharges, social activities and visitation until further notice.
Alberta COVID hospitalizations up 73% since July: health minister
Three weeks after the start of the school year, Alberta’s health minister provided an update on the spread of airborne viruses in the province.
Adriana LaGrange also said more information about flu and next-generation COVID-19 vaccines will soon be released.
“Now that we will be spending more time indoors, we need to make doubly sure we are following proper hygiene protocols like handwashing and staying home when sick,” LaGrange said. “It also means respecting those who choose to wear a mask.”
Global News previously reported that influenza vaccines will be available on Oct. 16 with the new Moderna vaccine formulated to target the XBB.1.5 variant likely to be available at around the same time. On Sept. 12, Health Canada approved the use of the Moderna vaccine.
“More information on immunizations against respiratory viruses including influenza and COVID-19 will be available shortly,” the health minister said.
LaGrange said there have been 28 cases of influenza and five lab-confirmed cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) since Aug. 28.
“This is consistent activity for this time of the year,” the health minister said in a statement.
The end of August or the beginning of September has typically marked the beginning of flu season for provincial health authorities.
LaGrange also provided an update on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the province.
From Aug. 28 to Sept. 8, there were a total 92 new hospitalizations and three ICU admissions, bringing the total to 417 in hospital and seven in ICU, a 73 per cent increase of COVID hospitalizations from the last reported info.
On July 24 – the last update to the province’s COVID data dashboard – there were only 242 in hospital.
“Sadly, five Albertans died during that period due to COVID-19,” LaGrange said.
LaGrange said the reporting dashboard is being refreshed to include RSV, influenza and COVID-19 data, work that was originally expected to be completed on Aug. 30. The latest data on the province’s influenza statistics dashboard is dated July 22.
“This work is currently underway and will be available in the coming weeks,” LaGrange said.
She said data for the dates between July 24 and Aug. 27 will be available when the new dashboard goes online.
Amid more hospitals continent-wide reinstating masking requirements in the face of increased hospitalizations, the health minister made no mention of any such moves for Alberta hospitals. Acute care COVID-19 outbreaks in Alberta jumped from Sept. 5 to 12, with 146 per cent more healthcare workers and 55 per cent more patients testing positive for COVID.
LaGrange stressed the “collective responsibility” to prevent the spread of airborne viruses like COVID and influenza.
“As a mother and grandmother, I understand the anxiety that comes with sending your children back to school. I want to reassure you that Alberta’s government has the health and well-being of all young Albertans top of mind,” the health minister said.
–with files from Meghan Cobb, Global News
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