Why wait? Now's a good time to get your vaccine booster, says N.L. virologist

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Rod Russell, a professor of virology at Memorial University, says right now is a good time to get a COVID-19 vaccine booster for those who are eligible.  (CBC - image credit)
Rod Russell, a professor of virology at Memorial University, says right now is a good time to get a COVID-19 vaccine booster for those who are eligible. (CBC - image credit)
CBC
CBC

A professor of virology at Memorial University says now is a good time to get a COVID-19 vaccine booster if you're eligible.

"The virus didn't go away or take a vacation like we hoped it would this summer. Cases are really high and that means there's high likelihood of getting infected now," said Rod Russell.

"The more infection we have in the community, the more chance we have of the virus getting to vulnerable populations — people who may not have been at risk otherwise," he said.

Last week, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald updated the province's guidelines on booster doses. Starting Wednesday, anyone over 50 years old and is 20 weeks out since their last booster can book an appointment.

Fitzgerald's message to the public was that it's up to each individual to decide when the right time is to get their booster.

Russell said vaccines give about three months of protection. He said travelling and large gatherings — such as weddings — are back on the table with no restrictions this summer, so there's a lot of opportunity for exposure and a lot of opportunity to spread the virus.

"If you've been four, five or six months since your last booster, or three or four months since you've been infected with the virus, then getting the booster now will give you that three months where you shouldn't get infected," he said.

"You wouldn't have to worry for a little while and you wouldn't have to worry about infecting other people."

Omicron vaccine

Fitzgerald also mentioned the possibility of a vaccine that targets Omicron specifically coming this fall. The Omicron sub-variant BA.5 is currently the dominant strain of the virus in provinces like New Brunswick and Ontario. It's fast-spreading and can invade immunity better than the original Omicron.

However, Fitzgerald said last week, the new mutation doesn't appear to cause more severe disease than its predecessor.

Nathan Denette/Canadian Press
Nathan Denette/Canadian Press

But Russell said the jury is still out on a vaccine that targets Omicron.

"We don't know very much about it right now. We know, yes, there are what they're calling bivalent vaccines. The idea would be that you have the original Wuhan variant and the newer Omicron variant mixed into the vaccine," he said.

"Potentially, the new vaccine, the immune response would be able to handle the current variants better, so the current Omicron variants and sub-variants. The question then [is] we don't know, yet, what effect that will have."

Russell believes the protection from the new vaccine could offer a longer term for protection but waiting for that to become available may not be the best option for anyone living among people who are at high risk of severe illness.

"It may not be ready by October and it may not as much better as we're hoping it will be," he said.

"I'd almost say, if you have any reason for concern about getting infected now, or if you have people in your life that you're concerned about infecting, then I would go ahead and get the current booster now just to be sure and lets see how the data comes out with the new vaccine later."

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