P.E.I. is now offering a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine to certain Islanders with compromised immune systems, the province has confirmed.
That includes transplant recipients and people undergoing treatment for cancer.
The Chief Public Health Office posted information about third doses on the provincial website late Wednesday afternoon.
It says Islanders who meet the definition of moderately to severely immunocompromised can now receive another shot of the vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic or, if they are 18 or over, from a participating pharmacy.
"An individual should wait at least 28 days after receiving their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine before receiving a third dose," the notice said.
On Friday, Canada's national advisory body on vaccines made the recommendation that moderately to severely immunocompromised Canadians should be vaccinated with a series of three doses of an authorized mRNA-based vaccine, which includes those from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
For those who've already had two doses, NACI recommends a third dose, ideally of an mRNA vaccine.
The committee stressed this should not be considered a "booster" for a healthy person's naturally waning immunity but an essential step in building protection for the patients involved.
Dr. Heather Morrison confirmed at a COVID-19 briefing on Monday that P.E.I. would be following the national guidance.
"P.E.I. will be implementing NACI's recommendation," said P.E.I.'s chief public health officer. "We have sent information out to our immunizers and our physicians, nurse practitioners and our vaccine clinics, and we can certainly have that information available on the website as well."
In guidelines concerning its recommendation of a third dose being offered in Canada, NACI said it is referring to moderately to severely immunocompromised individuals with the following conditions:
Active treatment for solid tumour or hematologic malignancies.
Receipt of solid-organ transplant, taking immunosuppressive therapy.
Receipt of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T-cell therapy or hematopoietic stem cell transplant (within two years of transplantation or taking immunosuppression therapy).
Moderate to severe primary immunodeficiency (e.g., DiGeorge syndrome, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome).
Stage 3 or advanced untreated HIV infection and those with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.
Active treatment with certain immunosuppressive therapies.
For Islanders with compromised immune systems, Dr. Morrison's announcement was welcome news.
Sarah Newman received a kidney transplant in 2017.
That kidney has started to fail, and she is now on the waiting list for a second kidney transplant, doing dialysis at home while juggling work and parenthood.
Before the province confirmed on Wednesday that people like her can indeed receive third doses as of now, Newman told CBC News that she would be eager to roll up her sleeve.
"I received two doses so far, only 21 days apart because of having a weaker immune system, and it has been discussed right from the beginning that if a third shot is approved that yes, it will be helpful for myself and others in similar situations," she said.
"I got along very well from the first two, and if a third dose is an option then I would definitely opt to receive it."
Some meds suppress response
Crohn's and Colitis Canada recommends that people with inflammatory bowel disease who are receiving medications that suppress their immune system have access to a third COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Eric Benchimol is a member of the group's COVID-19 task force and the chair of its Scientific and Medical Advisory Council.
"There's been multiple studies now — and most recently in people with Crohn's and ulcerative colitis — that have shown that these people who are on systemic immunosuppressive medications don't respond as well as other people to the first COVID-19 vaccine dose," he said.
"They seem to respond quite well and become immune after the second vaccine dose, but their immunity wanes more quickly."
Benchimol said other provinces including Quebec and Ontario are also adopting the NACI recommendations on a third dose.
"I think that getting that third dose is just a bit of reassurance for people who need it… We still don't know the degree to which the third dose will work in people who are immunosuppressed," he said.
"There have been some studies in transplant patients and cancer patients that shows that certainly a third dose helps, but there are still a group of people who are not immune even after a third dose."
Meanwhile, a representative from the Canadian Cancer Society says it is monitoring emerging evidence related to the effectiveness of a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine in people with that disease.
The society is telling patients to talk to their healthcare team about whether the benefits will outweigh the risks and determine the best timing of the dose based on their treatment plan.
Hunter Guindon of Springfield, P.E.I. lives with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system.
He said he will be reaching out to his doctors in Halifax to get their advice on a third dose.
"If my doctors determined that a third dose was a good idea, I would definitely like to be eligible for a third dose," Guindon said.
"People with CF are less so 'immunocompromised' in this situation but definitely at high risk of more serious outcomes if we were to catch COVID, so I'll take whatever extra protection I can get."