It's a good idea to get COVID-19 booster shot now, not wait for next version, says virologist

·5 min read
As of Monday, Saskatchewan residents 18 and over can receive their second booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Virologist Angela Rasmussen says she recommends people get their booster shots as soon as they get eligible. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images - image credit)
As of Monday, Saskatchewan residents 18 and over can receive their second booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Virologist Angela Rasmussen says she recommends people get their booster shots as soon as they get eligible. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images - image credit)

To wait or not to wait? That's the question right now for some people when it comes to getting another COVID-19 booster shot.

As of Monday, Saskatchewan residents 18 and over can receive a second booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as long as they received their previous dose at least four months prior.

However, plans in Canada and the U.S. to possibly move to a bivalent vaccine — which will target both the original strain and one of the Omicron strains — might lead to some people waiting to book their fourth shot.

Saskatoon resident Natasha Williamson said she considered waiting, but decided to book her booster shot, seeing it as a 40th birthday present to herself.

"Like that old saying, a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush," Williamson said.

"I feel like a shot now, even if it's not the more specifically targeted shot, is still going to be more useful to me than a shot that we're not really sure when that's going to turn up or if that's going to turn up, or when I would actually be eligible."

Waiting for 4th shot is fine, says Shahab

Last week Saskatchewan's Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said people who are eligible for their second booster shot can either get it now or wait until the fall for a potential bivalent vaccine to become available.

"That's fine, too," he said about waiting.

Like Williamson, Angela Rasmussen also plans to get her second booster shot as soon as possible because it's unclear when bivalent vaccines will become available in Canada.

"The current booster shots that we have are not as specific as they could be for the variants that are circulating now, and specifically the BA.5 sub-lineage of the Omicron family," said the virologist and researcher with the University of Saskatchewan's Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization.

"However, we do know that the original recipe boosters that we do have now actually really significantly increase your protection against infection with Omicron, as well as really increase your protection against severe disease and potentially death."

British regulator first to authorize Moderna's updated COVID-19 booster

mRNA vaccines provide the information cells need to make a coronavirus protein, which then triggers the body's immune system to respond and help protect against getting infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, according to the federal government.

Bivalent vaccines have two mRNAs (messenger RNAs) in them, encoding two different spike proteins, said Rasmussen.

On Monday, drug regulators in Great Britain became the first worldwide to authorize an updated version of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine that aims to protect against both the original virus and the Omicron BA.1 variant.

LISTEN | Angela Rasmussen spoke with guest host Peter Mills on Saskatoon Morning:

The United States has not approved that bivalent vaccine, said Rasmussen.

In June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration told vaccine makers that any booster shots tweaked for the fall would have to include protection against the newest Omicron variants, meaning BA.4 and BA.5, not the BA.1 subvariant included in Moderna's latest shot.

Last month, the FDA said it was no longer considering authorizing a second COVID-19 booster for all adults, but would instead focus on revamped vaccines for the autumn that target the newest viral subvariants.

According to the World Health Organization, the latest global surge of COVID-19 has been driven by Omicron subvariant BA.5, which is even more infectious than the original version of Omicron.

Both Moderna and Pfizer are currently brewing updated versions of their vaccine to include BA.5 in addition to the original COVID-19 virus.

"I really do encourage people when those bivalent vaccines, whether they are BA.1 or BA.5 specific, become available in Canada, that people go get one of those," said Rasmussen.

"That should really, really increase protection against infection from all across, which will help reduce transmission and will certainly help to reduce the overall burden of COVID in our communities."

In June, Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommended that only those with an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 should be offered a booster shot this fall in anticipation of a future wave.

Many provinces and territories, including Saskatchewan, have already moved to offer fourth doses of the original vaccines this summer. NACI said it will provide recommendations on the type of booster to be given when evidence about multivalent vaccines becomes available.

Many people in Sask. haven't received 1st booster shot

Rasmussen still thinks it's a good idea for people in the province to get their booster shot as soon as they become eligible, rather than wait potentially for months for a bivalent vaccine.

Shahab and Rasmussen both said that many people in the province haven't even received their first booster shot yet.

Fewer than 50 per cent of adults in the province have got their first booster, according to Shahab.

"I will encourage them to at least get their first booster and not wait for bivalent," he said.

Matthew Howard/Radio-Canada
Matthew Howard/Radio-Canada

Immunity is shown to wane over time and the provision of booster doses is shown to provide increased protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death, said Shahab.

"There are still very high levels of virus throughout Canada and in Saskatchewan," said Rasmussen.

"I really do recommend going to at least get that first booster shot, because when these updated boosters become available in a few months, people who got a shot now will be quickly eligible for those shots as well."