Coronavirus boosters: Experts share thoughts between Omicron variant

FLY THE NORTH – As the world responds to the emergence of a new variant of COVID-19 first discovered in southern Africa, questions are being raised about what this means for the effectiveness of the virus. vaccines — and whether access to boosters should be expanded.

Even before Omicron arrives on the scene, Toronto-based physician and clinical researcher Dr Iris Gorfinkel says vaccine boosters need to be made much more widely available than they are now.

Gorfinkel told in a phone interview that it is still difficult for people to access booster shots, in some cases due to existing age restrictions – for example, the current cutoff for Ontario resident is 70 unless other conditions are met.

“Now we have Omicron and suddenly this rod is raised. No, the bar was raised before,” Gorfinkel said.

“We need to be more aggressive from the start.”

Governments, health officials and global markets reacted quickly on Friday to the news that Omicron – named after a letter of the Greek alphabet and was formerly known as “B.1.1″ .529” before being renamed by the World Health Organization – has been classified as a variant of concern.

That same day, Canada suspended the entry of all foreign nationals who had passed through southern Africa in the past 14 days.

In addition, anyone in Canada who has traveled through the area in the past two weeks is required to be tested and remains in isolation until a negative test result is received.

Canadians and other permanent residents returning from the region through another country must receive a negative test result in a third country.


Fahad Razak, an epidemiologist at St. Michael of Toronto, emphasized during an appearance on CTV News Channel on Saturday that there is still a lot that is unknown about the variant, including whether it is more transmissible, more severe. it can escape immune protection due to previous vaccination or infection.

“There’s really no evidence to link boosters specifically to protection against this variant and I think there are a lot of other steps that we need to take first and it will be too soon, I think. , if jump immediately to say, ‘Okay, boosters are our solution,'” Razak said.

He added that the importance of other public health measures remained, including proper ventilation and air filtration, wearing of masks and vaccinations.

“Building a rocket booster, I think, is not the first step that needs to be taken,” he said. “Now, it may be very important very soon and it may be important for other reasons related to impaired immunity, but in particular it is not the answer for the Omicron variant.”

Speaking on CTV’s Power Play on Friday, Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist who is part of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine delivery force, said there’s not enough information on how it works. by Omicron.

When asked about the need for boosters, Bogoch said, while speculating, it would be “extremely unusual for a vaccine to become useless just because a new variant emerges in a particular region of the world.” world.”

“So in other words, it’s very likely that the vaccine still provides very reasonable protection,” he said.

“This is speculation, of course, we need to do the right tests to determine if that’s true, and the variant of interest already has many places in Canada to expand. potentially qualify for a third dose. We should have done this in some parts of Canada regardless of this news coming from southern Africa.”

Cynthia Carr of Epi Research Inc. in Winnipeg also told CTV News Channel on Friday that the booster question will matter depending on whether a new version of the vaccine, similar to the flu, is needed.

“So it’s not about the decline in immunity, it’s about the changes,” she said.

“So we’ll need to understand if the immune system has enough information from the current vaccine to fight this new variant, or it’s too weak, and we’ll need to look at a version of the vaccine.” new, as I said like we do with the flu every year, and we’ll know that as the process goes on.”


WHO has expressed concern that this variant has a large number of mutations, with preliminary evidence suggesting an increased risk of reinfection compared with other variants of interest.

The mutations appear to be in the mutated protein, which the body’s immune system uses to detect the virus, potentially increasing the possibility that the variant may be able to evade immune protection.

Many experts agree that more information is needed. Experts in South Africa have advised that some infected people have no symptoms, similar to other variants.

As of November 20, 86% of Canadians 12 years of age and older have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, although vaccine eligibility has been extended this month to those aged five. above.

On Friday, Canada’s director of public health, Dr Theresa Tam, said there was no indication the variant was present in the country.

While the Canada-approved COVID-19 vaccine has demonstrated a high degree of effectiveness, Gorfinkel said that it remains unclear how long immunity lasts and suggested full vaccination may in fact require three doses.

“It’s what we don’t know that’s actually more worrying,” she said, adding that she believes it’s very likely the variant is already present in Canada.

Gorfinkel also appealed against the national vaccine registry and pointed out the amount of vaccine that is underutilized and wasted in Canada.

An informal survey by the Canadian Press this month found that at least one million doses, or about 2.6% of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine supply, have been wasted since it was first administered. offered in December of last year.

As winter sets in, people will spend more time indoors together, especially during the holidays next month, and of additional concern is the effect this will have on those with immunity. attenuated since their second dose.

“What if you start off on a lower level of immunity because you’re older and have pre-existing medical conditions? Houston, we have a problem,” Gorfinkel said.


AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax and Pfizer say they plan to adapt their vaccines.

Meanwhile, several countries have reported cases of Omicron disease.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday the country, after finding two cases of the variant, would “step up” its campaign in response.

Health Canada has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines as boosters for anyone 18 years of age or older, six months after the end of the two-dose regimen.

Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has recommended that provinces provide a booster to anyone age 70 or older, along with people who have received two doses of AstraZeneca vaccine or one dose of AstraZeneca vaccine. -please Janssen, as well as adults in First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.

The provinces and territories, which are responsible for vaccine programmes, have adopted their own booster plans. Some have been in line with NACI recommendations, while others like Manitoba allow anyone 18 years of age or older to get the shot.

No one from Health Canada or the Public Health Agency of Canada was available on Saturday for an interview.

A spokesperson pointed to a Friday press release about the new border restrictions, as well as an earlier statement by the Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health that read: “Due to currently there are none. evidence of widespread impairment of protection against serious illness in the Canadian general population immunized against COVID-19; boosters for this group are not required at this time but they are I will continue to monitor vaccine effectiveness and other data to inform future demand.”


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