NACI strongly recommends COVID-19 boosters for people over 50

OTTAWA — The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is now strongly recommending adults over the age of 50 be offered COVID-19 boosters, while those aged 18 to 49 “may” be offered boosters based on individual risks and where they live.

NACI is also reiterating its previous recommendations to prioritize boosters to those living in long-term care homes; those who received two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine or one dose of the Janssen vaccine; certain immunocompromised individuals; adults in First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities; and front-line health-care workers who have direct close physical contact with patients.

NACI continues to align with Health Canada’s authorization that either the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines can be offered as boosters for anyone 18 and older, at least six months after the primary vaccine course.

However, citing evidence of lower reported rates of myocarditis or pericarditis following the Pfizer vaccine, NACI is suggesting it is the preferred vaccine to administer as a booster to those ages 18 to 29.

Among the considerations NACI is suggesting be weighed in determining the need for a booster dose include: the local epidemiology, regional health system capacity and access, and rate of vaccine update in the population.

As well, Canadians should consider whether they are at risk for severe illness from COVID-19, are at increased risk for waning protection, or are at high risk of transmission to others in deciding whether to receive a booster dose.

“NACI recommends, and health authorities in Canada agree, that immunization in those who are eligible, but have yet to receive the primary series should continue to remain the top priority in Canada,” said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam, announcing NACI’s latest findings during a press conference on Friday.

This updated advice comes after the federal government requested on Tuesday that NACI “quickly” review its guidance on prioritizing COVID-19 booster shots in light of concerns over the Omicron variant.

While it remains unclear just how transmissible and severe infection by the variant B.1.1.529 might be, because Omicron is highly mutated health officials have expressed concerns that it may be more vaccine-resistant.

As has been the case throughout the pandemic, provinces and territories are responsible for deciding their vaccine rollout eligibility strategies and whether or not to follow NACI’s recommendations.

NACI said the factors they considered in updating this guidance included an increase in COVID-19 cases, the new Omicron variant of concern’s emergence, and further evidence of the potential benefit and safety of booster doses.

“NACI acknowledges that the epidemiology of COVID-19… and the evidence on booster doses of COVID19 vaccines are rapidly evolving, and continues to monitor the evidence,” reads the latest report. “Modelling results suggest that booster doses are projected to reduce infections and severe illness in the population, at least over the short-term.”

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that should the call come to expand COVID-19 booster shot access, the supply will be there.

“There is not an issue about quantity of vaccines. We have lots of vaccines for boosters in Canada, we’re receiving more into the new year. We are fine in terms of quantity, the issue is what is the best recommendation for people to get those boosters and when,” Trudeau said.

Ministers are expected to have more to say about the federal COVID-19 response in a 1 p.m. EST press conference.

More coming…

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