British Columbia said Tuesday it will expand its booster shot program, as provincial officials reported five new cases of the omicron variant.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said those who are considered immuno-compromised and who received a three-dose primary series of vaccine will be offered a fourth shot. That booster will administered six months after the third shot, per new recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI).
Henry also said the province is ahead of schedule giving third shots to people over 65 and those considered clinically at risk. Both groups will start receiving invitations at the end of this week into the beginning of next week, she told reporters.
Booster invitations for those under age 65 will start rolling out in early January.
Asked if she foresees the need for a new vaccination or booster every six months, Henry said she didn't know.
"What we need to do is focus on immunizing other parts of the world. It's where this virus transmits among large numbers of people and is where these mutations come up."
"With more vaccination, the risk of having more mutations goes down," she said.
The province previously set a goal of offering all adults a third-dose booster between six and eight months after their second vaccination.
"There's increasing evidence that waiting that extra time, up to eight months, gives extra protection," said Henry.
Over half a million third-dose boosters have already been administered in the province. About 81 per cent of British Columbians over 70 have either booked or received their booster.
Cases linked to travel
Henry said the new cases of the omicron variant are all connected to international travel, including to Nigeria, Egypt, countries in southern Africa and Iran. The patients are aged between 18 and 60.
Three of the five are fully vaccinated and received different combinations of vaccines. The other two are in unvaccinated people.
More cases are suspected and awaiting verification, she said.
"It's not a surprise," said Henry. "We said once we started to look for it we would find it … When people move, the virus strains move with them."
Henry said the new omicron cases are all mild and asymptomatic, and none of the infected have required hospitalization.
Henry said she understands the variant is leading to renewed anxiety and seeming "never-ending uncertainty," but said people should take comfort that much more is known about COVID-19 than when it first appeared.
"We know what to do to prevent it," she said. "We have the tools to keep ourselves safe."