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Friday, July 12, 2024
Hirji says no plan yet for fourth vaccine shot, but he’s wary of potential variant-driven surge

Niagara's acting medical officer of health says there is no recommendation yet for people to receive a fourth shot of a coronavirus vaccine in Canada.

A fourth shot “would not be advisable because our best scientific bodies have not recommended it at this time,” Dr. Mustafa Hirji said in an interview on Monday.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization examines all vaccines carefully, he said.

“They’re looking at what are the benefits of the vaccine but also what are the potential risks. While side effects are rare, they do happen and we don’t want to be giving people unnecessary side effects unless there is a significant benefit from the vaccine.”

Hirji said the best protection available right now is a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Vulnerable people are even eligible for a double-dose of their third vaccine, giving them increased protection.

Queries about a second booster shot are arising from situations people are seeing in the United Kingdom and Israel, he said.

“In Israel, they did their first two doses three weeks apart,” he said.

In Canada, we learned that “protection from those first two doses was much higher if you spaced them out rather than got them very close together.”

“And so we’ve benefitted from better and longer-lasting immunity from those first two doses.”

Hospitalizations are up 35 per cent in the U.K. while Ontario has not seen such a dramatic increase, he said.

But Hirji said Ontario could see a jump in hospitalizations due to the lifting of all provincial measures.

“Continuing to voluntarily wear masks, continuing to make sure we get those three doses as quickly as possible will give us an insurance policy that we don’t start to follow the U.K.’s pattern.”

Surges in the U.K. and many other places are being driven by the new BA.2 variant, a mutation of Omicron.

The variant is not entirely understood yet, he noted.

It appears to spread more easily and more quickly but the vaccine works well to prevent it, he said.

And it does not seem to cause a more severe illness than Omicron.

While it is good news that vaccines are not undermined by the variant, Hirji said it comes down to the numbers.

“If you double the number of cases you are going to double the small percentage of people who end up with severe illness,” he said.

Hirji said the Science Table and Ontario’s chief medical officer of health have predicted there will be a surge in the coming weeks but think it will be minor.

“I hope that’s right,” Hirji said.

He said the newly approved vaccine, Novavax, will be coming to Niagara soon, saying doses should arrive within 10 days.

While Hirji understands that Novavax may be attractive to vaccine holdouts as it is a more traditional protein-based vaccine, he stressed it does not provide the same level of protection as an mRNA vaccine.

“They have the best track record of working. They have worked really well against the Omicron variant. Novavax is a little less proven against the Omicron variant.”

Novavax is the second-best option after the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, he added.

Anyone who wishes to get the Novavax should keep an eye on Niagara public health announcements to know when the doses arrive and at which locations they will be available. 

Hirji said that despite the province lifting pandemic restrictions, everyone should still be careful.

The two key things people need to do are “to make sure we’ve gotten our three doses of vaccine and to keep wearing our masks whenever we are out in public spaces.”

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