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B.C. changing priority for COVID booster shots as Omicron spreads

Province says change to "interval-based" determination of priority based on individual risk, calculated by time passed since last vaccine shot
Booster invites are opening up, the B.C. government announced Dec. 31, 2021.

The province is ramping up vaccination efforts around B.C. in the face of the spread of Omicron variant — including a fundamental change to the criteria of who receives their booster shots first.

Penny Ballem, executive lead for B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, confirmed at a news conference with provincial health officer Bonnie Henry this morning that — given the heightened-risk demographics have now all received their third booster shots — the province will now shift to an “interval-based” priority system for determining the vaccination schedule.

That means that priority will now be given to people who are coming up on six months — the recommended period between shots for maximum effectiveness of the vaccine — after their last COVID-19 shots. It also means that the rollout will no longer be based on a person’s age group.

When asked about the change, Ballem said it is no different than the province’s previous prioritization of front-line workers in receiving vaccinations. The deciding factor, she said, is risk.

“At the end of the day, the onset of Omicron... has really changed the needs [for booster shots],” Ballem said. “As Dr. Henry has said, this pandemic continues to force us to move and change and re-adapt to its changing nature and the kinds of risk that it is presenting for us.”

To date, the province has vaccinated 92% of B.C.’s eligible population with the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine — and 89% have received their second shots. Ballem confirmed that the province has also sent out 1.146 million invites for people to receive their booster shots, but only 905,784 have received their third shots.

Ballem reiterated that it means about 240,000 people have received notifications for booking their booster shots and have not responded. She urged those people to book quickly.

“You’ve had an invite; we continue to send you reminders,” Ballem said. “Please, book an appointment. It will protect you against severe illness from Omicron.”

The shift in vaccination policy comes as Ballem reported that the province has completed its notification efforts on the high-risk groups within B.C. That includes front-line health workers, those in remote and Indigenous communities, those who were vaccinated using AstraZeneca vaccines and those who are age 60 and older.

The last of these notifications for high-risk groups will be sent out by the end of this week, Ballem said.

The province originally planned to have intervals of six and eight months between a person’s second vaccine shot and their boosters. But Ballem said the quick spread of Omicron means that the province will now shorten that period to a target of six months.

It means that anyone between the ages of 59 and 18 could get notifications for boosters starting in the new year — based solely on when they received their second shot.

Ballem also said the province has been focused on “brooming” people with intervals of longer than seven months between shots to get priority boosters over the last week.

Health officials said there are now 720 vaccination locations around the province — and that will be ramped up further to speed up the pace of booster vaccinations. Ballem did note that some people may need to go beyond a 10-kilometre distance from their residence to get an appointment, but those appointments are available.

For those who are anxiously awaiting their booster notifications, Ballem was firm in her response: Hang tight.

“We have emails from people who are worried they’ve been left out, that they’ve been forgotten, that we’ve lost them in our system,” she said. “The vast majority of those, when we go back and calculate their intervals, they are still short of the 182-days that constitute the six-month interval.

“So wait for your invite; it is going to come.”