Open Letter to Premier John Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix, Acting PHO Martin Lavoie and Executive Lead BC COVID-19 Immunization Program Dr. Penny Ballem
Protect Our Province BC is calling on BC public health and political leaders to make the 4th dose of Covid vaccine available now to everyone 12 years old and older in BC and relax the interval length between doses.
As it stands BC has the most restrictive 4th dose vaccination policy of all Canadian jurisdictions, limiting age eligibility to 70 years and over while adhering to a strict six month interval between doses no matter the current pandemic landscape. This stands in contradiction to Minister Dix’s recent comments that “we will have to continue to adapt to the circumstances in front of us.”
Following a vaccine-only strategy for COVID mitigation while at the same time limiting access to vaccines leaves many British Columbians exposed and vulnerable just as the seventh wave is upon us.
BA.5 is a more contagious and vaccine-evading variant than any prior Omicron sub-variant, able to reinfect individuals who have only recently been infected.
Our healthcare workers cannot cope with yet another potential onslaught of Covid cases and more Long Covid patients. All efforts should be directed towards limiting this wave’s growing size and impact, while protecting our burnt out healthcare workers and our fragile and failing healthcare system from collapse.
Last December, BC leaders delayed vaccination against Omicron BA.1 with dire consequences. You should not repeat the same error now by delaying the fourth dose in the hope of a Omicron-specific fall booster. Doing so flies in the face of the precautionary principle. Who knows what variant will be circulating then and how effective the new bivalent vaccines will be, let alone when they will be widely available? The urgency is now.
We call on you not to confuse the issue of 3rd and 4th doses. Yes, BC public health authorities should proactively reach out to the approximately 1.3 million British Columbians who have not yet received their third dose AND at the same time they should vaccinate those who are now far out from their 3rd dose.
Our leaders must stop using a paternalistic and punitive approach to the fourth vaccine by saying “if you take it now, you can’t have the updated vaccine in the fall.” The choice should never be between being protected now and being protected later in the fall; it should be both.
NACI itself recommends offering a booster later in the fall “regardless of the number of booster doses previously received.” It also suggests that “a shorter interval of at least 3 months may be warranted in the context of heightened epidemiologic risk” which is the situation BC is in now with BA.5.
BC Public Health cannot run an ad hoc vaccination policy that is dependent on individuals calling and convincing the person at the vaccine booking line to allow them to have a fourth dose. British Columbians need and deserve a consistent vaccination approach that is fair, transparent and accessible to all. A full public health communication campaign is required now to advertise broadly the availability of fourth doses for all people in British Columbia twelve years and over. In conjunction with the communication campaign should be outreach to our most vulnerable groups and areas of low vaccination uptake, including such strategies as mobile vaccine clinics and engagement with community leaders.
To reiterate, Protect Our Province BC is calling on BC public health and political leaders to make the 4th dose of Covid vaccine available to everyone 12 years old and older in BC immediately, and to relax the interval length between doses. Only then will British Columbians’ protection against severe Covid outcomes be as uninterrupted as possible against BA.5 and the next variant.