BC Health officials announced the next steps for BC’s COVID-19 immunization program.

The province will now focus on making third or “booster” shots available, and everyone who received both doses that wants a booster shot will receive it between 6-8 months after their second dose.

Dr.Bonnie Henry says the timing of the third shot will depend on risk and interval from dose 2.

“What we want to do is optimize the vaccine to have longer protection so, for most people, we have good strong protection for this respiratory winter season but this booster dose will provide protection into, we hope, at least next year. And it may be, we’re still looking at the data, it’s too early to tell, but it may be that a three-dose primary series is going to give us long-lasting protection for many years, that may be all we need.”

Henry adds third doses will optimize the benefits of the vaccine with longer protection, create a strong and quick response from antibodies, protects people at higher risk of severe illness, and keep hospitalization rates down.

Invitations to book a third dose will be sent via the BC Get Vaccinated system and will be based on an interval of between 6 to 8 months depending on the risk, and the third dose program will be starting with various groups until December.

Those groups are, the clinically extremely vulnerable, those living in remote and rural communities, long-term and assisted living care residents, seniors 70+, and certain health care workers such as those working in COVID-19 wards.

“We will be starting with the higher risk now, that includes long term care residents which is now underway, it includes people who don’t have a strong immune system and we’ve already started a dose three to try and get us up to the level that most of us have after two doses. And it will now also expand to include our seniors and elders in the community over age 70, most of whom again received their first and second doses earlier on in our program and are now at least six months from their dose 2,” she explained.

She adds during this time, the program will also include BC’s Indigenous population in areas that have faced recent outbreaks.

From January to May, all remaining individuals in BC will be offered a third dose and will need to register on the BC Get Vaccinated system.

Currently, the Moderna, also known as “Spikevax” and Pfizer, also known as “Comirnaty” vaccines will be available and there is no need to receive the same shot as the first or second dose.

Anyone that received an AstraZeneca shot will be offered one of the mRNA vaccines for a third dose as well.

Immunization clinics will be hosted at various communities across BC’s five Health authorities, and pharmacies will provide booster shots through the Get Vaccinated system as well.

Additionally, the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) will provide boosters to rural and remote Indigenous communities.

However, there will be no drop-in clinics for third doses.

Henry says getting a third dose is optional, but she strongly recommends it for those who are more at risk of getting seriously ill from the virus.

“We’re starting to see breakthroughs in older people and in communities and in younger people in communities where there’s a lot of the virus circulating. So if you are someone who’s at the greatest risk of the reduced protection over time and the greatest risk of severe illness then this booster dose is an important tool right now as we’re heading into the respiratory season,” she stated.

Henry also reminded residents of the importance of getting fully vaccinated.

“Three quarters or more of our hospitalizations and over 90% of people who are in ICU now are people who are not yet fully vaccinated. That is putting a strain on our health care system across the province but particularly in places like the Interior and North.”