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BC COVID: vaccinations and plans for back-to-school | CityNews Vancouver

Posted August 8, 2023 4:10 pm.

Last Updated August 8, 2023 4:13 pm.

It may still be summer, but the B.C. government is already looking ahead to the fall as preparations are made for respiratory illness season, which coincides with kids returning to the classroom.

This comes as a new subvariant of the Omicron strain of COVID-19 has been discovered, EG-5

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, says the new strain of the virus has been circulating in B.C. since mid-June.

“This one is yet another that has a little bit more of an infectious advantage maybe. But so far, we’re not seeing it cause more severe disease or anything different than what we’ve seen from Omicron before,” she told CityNews on Tuesday.

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The province’s top doctor says despite the new strain appearing to be more infectious, current vaccines still offer protection.

“We’re not seeing a dramatic rise in cases or in people who need hospitalization or ICU care, so that gives us a pretty good sense that it’s not causing any more severe illness and that immunity that we have … still seems to be working to protect against this strain of Omicron as well,” she said.

“We are seeing slight changes over time but we do expect that the new updated vaccine that will be available in hopefully September or October should give good protection against what we’re seeing circulating right now.”

Looking ahead to the fall, Henry says the province will be offering flu shots and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time to help curb sickness during respiratory illness season.

“I was really hopeful that we might have a combined vaccine, but the technology hasn’t moved that far yet. They will be separate vaccines, but we’re working very hard to make sure that it’s much simpler to get both at the same time,” she explained.

According to the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, it is recommended people get another COVID-19 booster shot if it’s been six months since their last one.

No new protocols in schools to curb respiratory illnesses, Henry says

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On Tuesday, the Protect Our Province BC group — made up of doctors, nurses, scientists, and others — shared an open letter to the B.C. government demanding it take more steps to ensure a safe return to school this fall.

The group says it made a similar warning last year before a “tripledemic” of COVID-19, the flu, and RSV hit schools.

However, Henry says there will be no new messaging or protocols surrounding respiratory illness in the classrooms come autumn.

“These are the things that worked. They got us through the pandemic. They’re the things we know: that there’s times when we will need to stay away from others if we’re sick, that we need to take extra precautions around people who are more susceptible to severe illness, that there may be times where mask-wearing is appropriate,” she said.

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The top doctor adds that you also shouldn’t expect to see wide-ranging restrictions, such as mask mandates.

“I don’t think that we’re at the place anymore where we need those broad population level measures that really affect a lot of people over a broad area,” she said.

“This is going to be another year where we’re learning, where there’s going to be changes, and we all need to remember all those important things that we’ve learned over these past few years.”

With files from Martin MacMahon and Liza Yuzda


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