Do you need a spring vaccination against COVID-19? Research supports extra round for high-risk groups | CBC News

New guidelines suggest certain high-risk groups could benefit from another dose of a COVID-19 vaccine this spring – and more frequent vaccinations in general – while the broader population could enter the range once a year, similar to one annual flu vaccination.

Medical experts told CBC News that a backlog in the latest vaccinations may pose health risks, particularly for the elderly or immunocompromised.

“Even if the risk of infection starts to increase, the vaccines still do a really good job of reducing the risk of severe disease,” said Matthew Miller, a researcher and immunologist at McMaster University.

Who needs another COVID vaccination?

Back in January, Canada’s national vaccination advisory board set the stage for another round of spring vaccinations. In a statementThe National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) announced that starting in spring 2024, people at increased risk of severe COVID could receive an additional dose of the latest XBB.1.5-based vaccines, which better protect against circulating virus variants.

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of Pfizer's bivalent COVID-19 vaccine.
Quebec has been offering a new vaccine adapted to the new variants since October. (Kristopher Radder/The Associated Press)

That means:

  • Adults aged 65 and over.
  • Adult residents of nursing homes and other senior living facilities.
  • Anyone six months or older who is moderately to severely immunocompromised.

The various spring recommendations do not focus on pregnancy, Despite research shows clear links between COVID infection during pregnancy and increased health risks. However, federal guidelines indicate that vaccination during pregnancy can protect against serious consequences.

“Vaccinated people can also pass antibodies on to their baby through the placenta and breast milk,” he says. This guide says so.

What do the federal states recommend now?

Several provinces have begun rolling out their own regional guidelines based on these initial recommendations – with a focus on providing another round of vaccinations to similar high-risk groups.

BC is expected to announce spring COVID vaccine guidance in early April, officials told CBC News, and those recommendations are expected to align with NACI’s guidance.

In ManitobaHigh-risk people are already eligible for another dose, provided at least three months have passed since their last COVID vaccination.

In the meantime Ontario’s latest guidelines, published March 21, emphasizes that people at high risk may receive an additional dose during a vaccination campaign scheduled to run between April and June. The requirement for eligibility is to wait six months after a person’s last dose or last COVID infection.

A spring dose “is particularly important for individuals at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 who did not receive a dose during the fall 2023 program,” the guidance says.

And in Nova ScotiaThe spring campaign runs from March 25 to May 31 and also allows high-risk people the opportunity to receive another dose.

Specific eligibility criteria vary slightly from province to province, so Canadians should check with their primary care physician, pharmacist or local health team for specific guidelines for each area.

WATCH: Age still best determines when the next COVID vaccine dose will be given, research shows:

Age still best determines when to get a COVID vaccine, new research shows

It’s been four years since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, and new research suggests your age may determine how often you should get a booster shot.

Why do the guidelines focus so much on age?

The idea behind the latest spring guidelines, Miller said, is that a person’s age remains one of the biggest risk factors associated with severe COVID outcomes, including hospitalizations, intensive care unit admissions and death.

“So the risk starts to increase around age 50, but really increases in people over age 75,” he noted.

Canadian data suggests that the overwhelming majority of COVID deaths have occurred in older adults, with nearly 60 percent of deaths occurring in those over 80 and about 20 percent in those ages 70 to 79.

People with weakened immune systems or serious illnesses are also more susceptible, Miller added.

A healthcare worker wearing personal protective equipment, including a face shield and mask, administers a vaccine into the arm of an elderly man.
A person’s age remains one of the biggest risk factors associated with severe COVID outcomes, including hospitalization, intensive care unit admission and death, researchers say. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Do people always need regular COVID vaccinations?

While the general population may not require vaccinations as frequently as higher-risk groups, given the ongoing uncertainty about the course of COVID, it is unlikely that there will be recommendations to get a COVID vaccination less than once a year in the near future.

“For the future I suspect, for pragmatic reasons, [COVID vaccinations] “Will harmonize with seasonal flu vaccination campaigns simply because it makes implementation much easier,” Miller said.

“And while we haven’t seen any really strong seasonal trends with SARS-CoV-2 at the moment, I suspect we’ll get to a point where it’s more seasonal than ever before.”

In the meantime, the guidance around COVID vaccination remains simple at its core: Whenever you are eligible for another dose – be it once or twice a year – you can do so.

What does the research say?

An analysis, published in early March in the medical journal Lancet Infectious Diseasesstudied more than 27,000 US patients between September and December 2023 who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID.

The team found that people who received an updated vaccine reduced their risk of severe disease by almost a third – and the difference was more noticeable in older and immunocompromised people.

Another American research team from Stanford University recently shared the results of a model simulation looking at the ideal frequency of COVID vaccines.

The study in Nature Communications points out that for people aged 75 and over, annual vaccination against serious infections could reduce the number of serious infections from an estimated 1,400 cases per 100,000 people to around 1,200 – while increasing it to twice a year could reduce these cases even further, to 1,000.

However, for younger, healthier populations, the benefits of regular vaccinations against serious illness were more modest.

For Stanford researcher Dr. Nathan Lo, an infectious disease specialist, said the finding wasn’t a surprise since age has always been a risk factor for severe COVID.

“It’s almost the same pattern that has been present throughout the pandemic,” he said. “And I find that quite striking.”

More frequent vaccination will not prevent all serious infections, he added, and perhaps even a large proportion of those infections, underscoring the need for continued containment efforts.

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