B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix is considering making COVID-19 shots widely available in the fall, as experts predict a third Omicron wave is on the way.
The provincial health-care system is getting ready for a fall wave and looking at a federal advisory body's recommendations that booster doses be made widely available, Dix said speaking at a news conference Monday.
Meanwhile, the B.C. COVID-19 Modelling Group, made up of interdisciplinary experts who work independently from the government, warns that a wave of COVID-19 driven by the more infectious and immune-evasive BA.5 sub-variant of Omicron is emerging.
Dix said everyone should plan to get another vaccine dose in the fall.
"We have to protect the ones we love and to protect ourselves in a pandemic that is still with us, still affecting us."
Dix did not provide any further information about whether the doses would be targeted toward BA.5 specifically, or how they would be rolled out.
It comes as the province is preparing to dispose of more than 200,000 vaccine doses amid a slow uptake of third and fourth shots.
Public Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said two weeks ago that those hoping for a fourth dose would still have to wait until they are eligible. They are currently only available for people aged 70 and older, Indigenous people over 55, and people in long-term care — six months after their last booster.
Dix also said the province wouldn't rule out bringing back masks in indoor spaces come the fall and encouraged people to get vaccinated.
About 1.4 million people who are eligible for a third dose have not taken it, Dix said, adding that vaccination is the best protection against COVID-19.
Dr. Brian Conway, medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, said people should take precautions — especially to avoid getting long COVID.
"I don't want to hear on the street, as I hear often: 'Thank God it's over.' It's not over. It may never be fully over," he said. "Most experts are suggesting that there will be a significant increase in transmission in the fall."
10% of medical staff off sick
COVID-19 is having a significant effect on the province's health-care workers, Dix said. Numerous emergency rooms and acute care units have been closed in B.C. over the past few weeks due to staff shortages.
"There were 16,400 people who missed at least one day due to illness last week in our public health-care system," he said. "That's on a base of about 160,000 workers … so about 10.2 per cent."
Normally it would be about six per cent, he said, adding that COVID-19 is contributing to the rising numbers.
Asked what the province is doing to avert the closures, Dix pointed to new hiring initiatives.
"We're going to continue to do that work in communities to make sure that people are safe, our workers are safe, and most importantly, patients are safe," said Dix, who was speaking at a press conference announcing a new hospital in Surrey, about 34 km southeast of Vancouver, which is expected to begin construction next summer.