B.C. health officials say fall COVID-19 immunizations will kick off as soon as the latest vaccines arrive in the province, and the public will start being invited to get their shots starting on Oct. 10.
At a news conference outlining this year’s immunization strategy for all respiratory diseases — including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, influenza and RSV — Health Minister Adrian Dix and the provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said two newly formulated vaccines targeting the latest coronavirus variants have been approved by Health Canada and will be on their way to B.C. soon.
Long-term-care and health-care workers will be vaccinated as soon as vaccines are available here. Then invitations will start going out to the priority group of seniors, those in long-term care, Indigenous people and those with chronic conditions.
Infants and children are a priority group for the influenza vaccine.
Henry said the province is starting to see COVID infections tick up, and the first flu cases are showing up as well.
Appointments can be booked at GetVaccinated.gov.bc.ca or by calling 1-833-838-2323. B.C. residents are encouraged to get a COVID and a flu shot at the same appointment.
More than 1,350 pharmacies will be offering flu vaccines, and more than 1,200 will be able to accommodate COVID vaccination appointments. Health authorities will also be setting up community clinics.
The new vaccines, Moderna’s Spikevax and Pfizer-BioNTech’s Comirnaty Omicron XBB.1.5 shot, are formulated to protect against the widely circulating XBB1.5 variant. Approval for a non-mRNA vaccine by Novavax is pending.
People should get the COVID shot if they haven’t had a vaccine or known infection in the past six months. Anyone six months or older is eligible, and infants and children will be administered a lower dose, said health officials.
Even if you’ve had a recent COVID vaccine or infection, Henry advises getting an influenza shot right away.
Masking returns to health-care settings
As previously revealed, universal masking will return to B.C. health-care settings starting Oct. 3.
That means medical masks must be worn at all times by health-care workers, visitors, contractors and volunteers in long-term care, assisted living, hospitals and provincial mental-health facilities.
That enhanced measure is along with the usual precautions such as screening at health facilities, proper hand hygiene, and isolating and masking if you have symptoms or are recovering.
B.C. Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau said the move doesn’t go far enough.
“Reintroducing masks in response to rising cases, hospitalizations, and deaths exemplifies a reactive, not proactive, approach to healthcare in B.C.,” she said in a statement, adding the provincial government should also mitigate risks in schools and public buildings by upgrading filtration and ventilation systems.
Dix said B.C.’s preparations for fall include plans to accommodate a surge in patients due to respiratory viruses.
Among those preparations is a net increase of more than 5,200 nurses in the province since January, including over 400 internationally educated nurses. The College of Physicians and Surgeons has also registered more than 520 internationally educated doctors since the start of the year.
Dix said the number of beds available in hospitals across B.C. is being increased from about 9,200 to just under 10,000.
Most of the new beds are medical and surgical beds, but critical care beds can be added as the need is identified, and an added 1,500 can be activated in the fall and winter if there is a surge in need.
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