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Do you need a spring COVID-19 vaccine? Research supports additional cycle for high-risk groups | Radio-Canada News

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New guidelines suggest that some high-risk groups could benefit from another dose of a COVID-19 vaccine this spring – and more frequent vaccinations in general – while the general population could enter the country. ‘once a year, a bit like an annual flu shot. .

Medical experts told CBC News that missing the final shots can lead to health risks, especially for people who are older or immunocompromised.

“Even when the risk of infection starts to increase, vaccines still do a very good job of reducing the risk of serious illness,” said Matthew Miller, a researcher and immunologist at McMaster University.

Who needs another COVID shot?

Last January, Canada’s national vaccine advisory body set the stage for another round of spring vaccinations. In a reportThe National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) said 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 protect better against circulating viral variants.

A health worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer bivalent COVID-19 vaccine.
Since October, Quebec has been offering a new vaccine adapted to new variants. (Kristopher Radder/Associated Press)

That means:

  • Adults aged 65 and over.
  • Adult residents of long-term care homes and other congregate living environments for seniors.
  • Anyone six months or older who is moderately to severely immunocompromised.

The various spring recommendations do not focus on pregnancy, despite research showing clear links between COVID infection during pregnancy and increased health risks. However, federal guidelines note that getting vaccinated during pregnancy can protect against serious outcomes.

“Vaccinated people can also pass antibodies to their babies through the placenta and breast milk,” as the guidelines indicate.

What are the provinces now recommending?

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

British Columbia is expected to announce spring COVID vaccine guidelines in early April, officials told CBC News, and those recommendations are expected to align with NACI guidelines.

In Manitobahigh-risk people are already eligible for another dose, provided it has been at least three months since their last COVID vaccine.

In the meantime Ontario’s latest guidelines, published on March 21, emphasizes that people at high risk could receive an additional dose during a vaccination campaign which will take place between April and June. Eligibility will involve waiting six months after a person’s last dose or COVID infection.

Having 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 schedule,” the guidance notes. .

And in Nova Scotiathe spring campaign will run from March 25 to May 31, also allowing high-risk people to receive another dose.

Specific eligibility criteria vary slightly between provinces, so Canadians should check with their primary care provider, pharmacist or local public health team for exact guidelines in each area.

WATCH: Age Still Best Determines When to Get Next COVID Vaccine Dose, Research Shows:

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Why do the guidelines focus so much on age?

The reason behind the latest spring guidance, Miller said, is that a person’s age remains one of the greatest risk factors associated with serious outcomes from COVID, including hospitalization, admission to intensive care and death.

“This risk therefore begins to increase around age 50, but really takes off in individuals over 75,” he noted.

Canadian data suggests that the overwhelming majority of COVID deaths have occurred among older adults, with nearly 60 percent of deaths among people aged 80 or older and about 20 percent among people aged 70 to 79.

People with weakened immune systems or serious health conditions are also more vulnerable, Miller added.

A health 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 greatest risk factors associated with serious outcomes from COVID, including hospitalization, intensive care admission and death, according to researchers. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Will people still need regular COVID vaccines?

While the general population may not need vaccines as frequently as higher-risk groups, Miller said it’s unlikely there will be recommendations anytime soon to get vaccinated against the COVID less than once a year, given continued uncertainty about COVID’s trajectory.

“In the future, I assume that, for pragmatic reasons, (COVID vaccinations) will tie in with seasonal flu vaccination campaigns, simply because it makes implementation much simpler,” he said. Miller said.

“And while we haven’t seen really strong seasonal trends with SARS-CoV-2 right now, I think we’ll get to a point where it will be more seasonal than before.”

In the meantime, the advice regarding COVID shots remains basically simple: Anytime you’re eligible to get another dose — whether it’s once or twice a year — you might as well do it.

What does the research say?

Analysis, published in early March in the medical journal Lancet Infectious Diseasesstudied more than 27,000 U.S. patients who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, between September and December 2023.

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

Another American research team from Stanford University recently shared the results of a modeling simulation investigating the ideal frequency of COVID vaccines.

The study in Nature Communications suggests that for people aged 75 and older, getting the COVID vaccine every year could reduce serious infections from around 1,400 cases per 100,000 people to around 1,200 cases – while moving to twice a year could reduce these cases further, to 1,000.

However, for younger, healthier populations, the benefit of regular injections against serious illnesses was more modest.

The result was no surprise to Stanford researcher Dr. Nathan Lo, an infectious disease specialist, since old age has historically been a risk factor for severe COVID.

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

More frequent vaccination will not prevent all serious infections, he added, or perhaps even the majority of those infections, underscoring the need for continued mitigation efforts.

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