The updated Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines for people aged 12 and older are available in New Brunswick now and the doses for younger children are expected to arrive next week, according to the Department of Health.
About 22,000 New Brunswickers have rolled up their sleeves to receive a dose of Moderna's updated COVID-19 vaccine since it became available Oct. 16, said spokesperson Sean Hatchard.
Pfizer's Comirnaty and Moderna's Spikevax are both designed to target the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5, but evidence shows they also provide strong protection against other circulating strains, such as EG.5.
Demand for the updated vaccines has been strong, said Brian Greenfield, a pharmacist and co-owner of Guardian Ross Drug in Fredericton.
"I think, just from feedback from some of the patients coming in, it's just there seems to be a lot of COVID going around right now. So I think it just feels like it's time to bump up that protection level again a little bit," he said.
New Brunswick's COVID-19 hazard index has more than doubled in a week and is now the highest in the country, according to an infectious diseases researcher and co-founder of COVID-19 Resources Canada.
The province's score jumped to 22.8, as of Monday, with an estimated one in 10 people currently infected, Tara Moriarty posted on social media. The national average is 21.2, with an estimated one in 19 Canadians infected.
New Brunswick also recorded three more COVID deaths between Oct. 8 and Oct. 14, along with 57 hospitalizations and more than 150 new PCR-confirmed cases. There are also 14 lab-confirmed outbreaks, according to Tuesday's Respiratory Watch report.
'We didn't order enough'
The updated vaccines are available to everyone six months and older, as long as it's been at least six months since their last dose or COVID infection.
Greenfield estimates his pharmacy's three Fredericton locations each administered between 60 and 80 of Moderna's updated Spikevax vaccines in the past week.
"It's been interesting. Like, we didn't order enough for the first week simply because the demand was higher than we had anticipated it was going to be," he said. "But we're catching up now."
"We weren't short," he said. "We just … could have done more, and we had to really watch our inventory that first week to make sure that we weren't … booking more than [the] vaccine that we had in."
Brian Greenfield, pharmacist and co-owner of Guardian Ross Drug in Fredericton, said pharmacists aren't fielding many questions about the updated vaccines. 'I think people after three years are quite familiar with what to expect and and how the protection works from the vaccine.' (Submitted by Brian Greenfield)
His pharmacies are seeing a broad range of people, he said, not just those considered most at-risk.
Most people seem happy to get either Moderna or Pfizer, according to Greenfield.
"There's always people who have [a] preference. If they've had, you know, no problems with one, they they tend to want to stick with that one," he said.
But he described the vaccines as "interchangeable," and encourages people to get whichever one they can get first.
Anne Marie Picone, interim executive director of the New Brunswick Pharmacists' Association, agrees the two vaccines are "equally effective."
"We've been reminding people that if they have specific concerns, they should speak with their pharmacist or other primary health-care provider, but generally, our advice, based on the recommendation from Public Health, is to take the first available vaccine," she said in an emailed statement.
For people who are between 12 and 29 years old and have never received a COVID-19 vaccine, Public Health recommends the Pfizer Comirnaty XBB.1.5 vaccine "because of its lowered risk of myocarditis or pericarditis (inflammation of the heart or lining on the outside of the heart)."
Otherwise, people aged five and older should receive either one dose of Moderna or one dose of Pfizer, regardless of their COVID vaccination history.
For children aged six months to under five years old who have never received a COVID-19 vaccine, Public Health recommends they get either two doses of Moderna or three doses of Pfizer. If they've received one or more COVID-19 vaccines, they should get either one dose of the updated Moderna vaccine, or one or two doses of the updated Pfizer vaccine, depending on the number of prior doses.
There's no word yet on when the updated Novavax vaccine might be available. Health Canada is still reviewing the protein-based vaccine.
"As we've noted throughout the pandemic, vaccination is our best defence against COVID-19, as it can help reduce the risk of serious complications and hospitalizations," Hatchard, of the Health Department, said in an emailed statement.
XBB.1.5 vaccine uptake in N.B., Oct. 14 to Oct. 23
Age groupVaccines administeredUnder 51285-1124012-1720818-2948230-3979640-491,14450-592,35360-642,35365-693,46470-743,98475-793,34180-841,95785+1,398
*Source: Department of Health
"Public Health recommends all New Brunswickers aged six months or older receive an updated vaccine, so long as they have not received a dose or had a COVID-19 infection in the past six months" and "strongly recommends" an updated vaccine for those at higher risk.
New Brunswickers are also encouraged to book appointments for their flu shot, which can be administered at the same time as the COVID vaccine.
The free flu shot is recommended for all New Brunswickers aged six months and older, with a higher dose available for those 65 or older to provide better protection.
More than 31,000 people have received the flu shot since Oct. 4, according to figures provided by the department.