OTTAWA — The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is set to release new guidance this morning on the use of COVID-19 vaccine boosters as public health faces down the threat of the Omicron variant.
The new variant came to light late last week, and has sparked tougher border measures around the world as the World Health Organization warns the high number of mutations could signal that it is more transmissible than previous strains.
The government issued an urgent request to the advisory committee for new directives on the eligibility criteria for boosters to protect Canadians against the new version of the virus.
“We know that Canadians are asking increasingly about whether they should … receive boosters, and that question is obviously of greater importance now with the new variant,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said in a press conference Tuesday.
“We are explicitly asking NACI to come up quickly with a revised view on where and how and to whom these boosters should be administered.”
It was at the same press conference that ministers announced a series of strict new testing and isolation measures for travellers coming into Canada as part of an effort to make sure no one unwittingly imports a case of the new variant to Canada. The government has also barred foreign nationals who recently transited through 10 African countries from entering.
Still, cases of Omicron have already cropped up across the country. Though most involve recent travel, one case, reported in Alberta, involved household transmission.
On Nov. 19, the advisory committee suggested there is no evidence to date of waning of protection against severe disease from COVID-19 in the general fully-vaccinated population.
The emerging evidence suggests that while the vaccine becomes less effective at preventing infection over time, protection against severe illness and death appears to be more durable.
The advisory committee has strongly recommended boosters for people who are immunocompromised, live in long-term care centres and people over the age of 80.
The committee has also recommended that boosters may be offered to several other groups, including people over the age of 70, people who received a full series of the Oxford-AstraZeneca or Janssen vaccine, people in or from First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities, and front-line health workers.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday when it comes to boosters, the priority is to follow NACI’s advice on who should get them, and when, in light of the Omicron variant.
Vaccine supply will not be an issue, he said.
“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,” he said.
Despite NACI’s advice to date, many provinces have gone ahead with their own COVID-19 booster strategies and in some cases have pledged to offer them to any adult who wants one in coming weeks.
NACI officials are expected to hold a media briefing at 11 a.m ET.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2021.