Saskatchewan will be getting 90,000 doses of Moderna's Omicron-targeting COVID-19 vaccine from the federal government.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority says it will receive the doses of the bivalent vaccine — which targets both the original strain of the coronavirus and the Omicron variant — in two shipments, with more to follow later this month.
In an email to CBC, the health authority said it will make a public announcement next week on delivery timelines and eligibility.
Nazeem Muhajarine, a professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan, says people most at risk from COVID-19 should be prioritized.
That includes "older people and people who have some immunocompromised situation, who might have some serious chronic conditions — and that could include children who are immunocompromised," he said.
Health Canada authorized the use of the bivalent vaccine for those age 18 and older on Thursday.
With the initial supply of the bivalent vaccine limited, the provincial health authority said it will work with the Ministry of Health to review options, and may prioritize those at highest risk for serious COVID-19 illness.
Muhajarine said the new vaccine comes at a good time.
"Schools reopened yesterday and people are going back to work after summer holidays," he said. "We are gradually moving into the fall-winter season, [which is] typically the flu season, and we'll be inside for longer in the coming months.
"And importantly, many people who have vaccine doses previously have had them some time back.… Many months have passed since they've had their vaccine dose."
Health Canada says Moderna's new vaccine shows "significantly higher responses" to the Omicron BA.1 virus in comparison to Moderna's original coronavirus vaccine, officially branded as Spikevax.
While the updated vaccine was developed to target the Omicron BA.1 variant, Health Canada says clinical trials suggest the new vaccine still elicits a "stronger immune response" against the more recent mutations of Omicron — BA.4 and BA.5 — that are now dominant.
Muhajarine said the new vaccine booster has been shown to be effective against the Omicron subvariants, and getting the booster could shield people from the worst of the virus.
"Hundreds of hospitalizations could be averted [in the province] by this bivalent vaccine right now," he said. "So it is quite efficacious against getting infected with Omicron, and also keeping people away from hospitals and avoiding death as well."
He said COVID-19 hasn't gone away yet.
"A lot of people think this is the end, or beginning of the end. I like to think that this is the end of the beginning," Muhajarine said, adding people still need to be cautious, despite most of the population having been vaccinated.
He said wearing a mask is still an important precaution, and people should stay home if they feel unwell.
While most people will recover from a COVID-19 infection fairly quickly, for "about one in four people, this is a long-lasting problem — sometimes three months out, six months out, sometimes a year after you had been initially infected," said Muhajarine.
"So that post-COVID condition is something really, really important to keep in mind, and it is not something that you want to get."