COVID booster: Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization “strongly” recommends adults ages 50 years and older should be offered a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot.

Booster shots of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine “may be offered” to adults ages 18 to 49 at least six months after their second dose, according to NACI.

NACI made the recommendations Friday after the Canadian government requested the advisory group to quickly provide the latest directives on booster use as the Omicron variant spreads across the world.

“NACI has reviewed the latest data that suggest protection against infection decreases over time since completion of a primary COVID-19 vaccine series,” the group said Friday. “Protection against severe illness remains generally high, but may decrease over time for some people, such as older adults.”

As part of NACI’s updated guidance, boosters are strongly recommended for people adults living in long-term care homes or other congregate living settings, those fully vaccinated with AstraZeneca or Johnson and Johnson, adults in or from First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities and all frontline healthcare workers having direct in-person contact with patients.

“Offering booster doses will help ensure that protection against severe disease remains high, and may have an impact on spread in the community as well,” Dr. Shelley Deeks, chair of NACI, said in a written statement. “It is important to note that there is no information yet on the impact of the new variant, Omicron, on the effectiveness of the vaccine.”

Deeks added NACI will continue to monitor and provide updated advice as more is learned about Omicron.

So far, third shots have been administered mostly among vulnerable populations in parts of Canada. The discovery of Omicron last week has added increasing pressure to provinces dolling out their own strategies.

As it stands, eligibility for boosters varies province-by-province. In most cases, provinces advise that boosters should be given at least six months after the second dose.

In Ontario, the province announced Thursday it’s lowering the age of eligibility for COVID-19 booster shots to people aged 50 and older. They will be able to get their shots starting Dec. 13.

Alberta announced Wednesday it was expanding booster shots to all adults aged 18 and older. Quebec meanwhile is administering third doses for people 70 and over.

Other jurisdictions have also recently adjusted their eligibility, including Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, which have lowered the age requirement to 65.

Yukon has approved boosters for those 50 and older, and Manitoba, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are allowing third doses among their general populations.

British Columbia is administering booster jabs to its elderly and most at-risk through to the December holiday, and will then expand to include all adults 18 and older in January.

NACI’s previous guidance on booster use recommended mRNA shots, like Pfizer or Moderna, be offered to people who are immunocompromised, those who live in long-term care centres and people over the age of 80.

At the time, the organization said it made its decision based on evidence showing that immunity provided by the vaccine could wane over time.

Click to play video: 'More Canadians starting to receive their 3rd COVID-19 vaccine dose' More Canadians starting to receive their 3rd COVID-19 vaccine dose

More Canadians starting to receive their 3rd COVID-19 vaccine dose

The discovery of Omicron, however, and the unanswered questions around its behaviour, prompted many countries to impose measures to protect themselves.

Canada has seen several Omicron infections since the mutation was discovered in South Africa last week.

The federal government has imposed travel bans on several African nations, even though the mutation has spread beyond the continent.

The World Health Organization has classified Omicron as a variant of concern and said it poses a “very high” risk to the world’s pandemic fight.

The variant, which has multiple mutations, is not yet known to be more deadly or more transmissible than its counterparts. It’s also not clear if it makes current vaccines less effective.

Scientists are continuing to study the variant, and the WHO said Wednesday the world will know more about Omicron “within days.”

Canadians 18+ should be offered COVID booster 6 months after 2nd shot: NACI

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