Alberta is finalizing plans to roll out new booster shots to the bivalent COVID-19 vaccine, which target multiple strains of the coronavirus.
The province says it is reviewing Health Canada’s early September approval of Moderna’s updated vaccine.
But an Alberta vaccine advocacy group wonders why the province hasn’t yet announced details of its plans for the new vaccine, when provinces like Ontario, British Columbia and Saskatchewan have started their reservations.
“The question is, what is the advantage of waiting?” said Sarah Mackey with Vaccine Hunters Alberta.
“What do you expect to review that you don’t expect Health Canada’s review process and the (National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s) review process to pick up on?”
In a statement to Postmedia, Alberta Health said availability of the bivalent vaccine will be subject to the province’s federal government supply allocation. Public Health Canada data on vaccine distribution says that Alberta had received 32,300 doses of the bivalent injections as of September 8.
The Moderna bivalent vaccine booster shot is the first to be approved in Canada. It targets the previously prevalent strain of the virus and Omicron’s BA.1 variant, which strained Alberta’s health care system for a wave of infections last winter.
A bivalent vaccine from Pfizer targeting subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 from Omicron, that are dominant in Albertais available in the United States, with an application also sent to Health Canada.
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Having more targeted vaccines should lead to a better immune response and more protection against Omicron infection, said Dr. Jia Hu, a Calgary public health physician.
He said there is no real-world data from clinical trials of the vaccines, but immunological data shows that the new vaccines generate higher antibody responses than previous offerings.
“We don’t think they’re magic bullets in terms of how well the original COVID vaccine worked, but it certainly seems to give your immune response a higher mileage,” Hu said.
It’s not unreasonable for Albertans currently eligible for a booster shot to wait until the bivalent vaccine becomes available, Hu said.
“I think this is one of the few occasions where it can really make sense to wait,” he said. He added that having some backup protection will be important for all Albertans to protect themselves and those around them as fall approaches.
“It has been a nice summer, people have been able to live more normally and that is good. But I think we want to take every precaution we can to keep everyone safe.”
Mackey said he counts this latest bivalent vaccine as Alberta’s 10th COVID-19 vaccine release, when including other brands and doses. He argued that the process should already be routine.
She said she has spoken to many Albertans who are waiting for the new vaccine to be available for boosting, forgoing protection as they wait for the province to roll out the vaccine.
“They have been late to the party every time. There is a complete lack of communication every time,” she said. “It is inexcusable that time and time again we are behind the 8 ball.”
As of September 5, the latest date for which data is available, 82.6% of eligible Albertans had received at least two injections of the COVID-19 vaccine and 41.8% had at least one booster vaccination.
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