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Doctors’ group urges B.C. to expedite booster shots as Omicron moves in

Better ventilation, free rapid antigen tests also needed, experts say
An Abbott Laboratories Panbio COVID- 19 Rapid Test device is displayed at a pop-up COVID-19 testing site on the Dalhousie University campus in Halifax on Wednesday, Nov. 235 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

A group of doctors and other advocates is urging B.C. to speed up booster shots as the Omicron variant moves into the province.

Protect our Province BC held a press briefing Thursday (Dec. 16) to lay out what steps they believe the province needs to take.

“Two doses are not enough to provide protection against breakthrough cases,” said Dr. Lyne Filiatrault, a retired emergency room doctor.

She pointed to Ontario, where she said cases are doubling every 2.2 days and that within a week, all cases there will be Omicron. That variant was first detected in South Africa in November and has already spurred the federal government to issue a travel advisory and call for more arrival testing at airports.

Ontario reported 2,421 daily cases on Thursday— its highest since mid-May, along with nine deaths.

Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of Ontario’s science table, said “it could be the worst wave of the pandemic yet.”

READ MORE: ‘Incredible urgency’: Health experts say COVID-19 Omicron variant requires response

Filiatrault said that while two doses of a Pfizer vaccine are believed to protect against hospitalization and death, its effectiveness against infection is limited against Omicron.

U.K. data, she said, shows that two doses are 40 per cent effective against Omicron infection, while three doses bump that to 70 or 75 per cent.

B.C., Filiatrault said, is running too far behind when it comes to booster doses. In Ontario, all adults will be eligible for a booster starting Monday, while in Alberta people ages 50 and up are eligible for their shot, as long as their last dose was at least dix months ago.

In B.C., booster shots are currently being given to people ages 65 and up who got their first shot at least six months ago. The province has said that everyone will be eligible for their booster by May 2022, approximately six to eight months after their previous doses.

“We have some catching up to do,” Filiatrault said.

Dr. Malgorzata Gasperowicz, a developmental biologist at the University of Calgary, agreed, noting that B.C. officials themselves warned that the province could see as many as 2,000 cases per day within a few weeks.

Gasperowicz said that Omicron cases would double every two to three days in B.C., given current public health measures. She added that even if Omicron is milder, as some preliminary data has suggested, it will “generate more deaths because it will infect so many people.”

Aside from booster doses, Filiatrault said that B.C. needs to make rapid antigen tests freely available now, as Ontario and Albert have begun to do.

Better masks – including N95s for health-care workers – filtration and ventilation are the other keys to defeating, or at least slowing, the Omicron surge, she added.

READ MORE: Early data indicating Omicron is milder, better at evading vaccines

Editor’s note: A prior version of this article indicated that two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine is believed to protect strongly against hospitalization and death. Two doses are believed to provide some protection, but at this point it is unclear how much.


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