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Spring COVID-19 vaccines available for high-risk patients starting April 2 as virus kills two more people

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Starting April 2, spring COVID-19 booster vaccinations will be available to New Brunswick residents considered most at risk of severe disease.

These include people aged 65 or older, residents of nursing homes and senior living facilities, and immunocompromised people aged six months or older, the Ministry of Health said in a press release on Monday.

The announcement came after two more New Brunswick residents died from the virus between March 3 and 9 and 21 people were hospitalized, one of them requiring intensive care.

“COVID-19 is circulating in Canada and elsewhere. Vaccination is an important part of protecting against the effects of the virus,” said Dr. Yves Léger, acting chief health officer, in a statement.

“In line with the recommendations of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, the spring booster campaign will focus on populations at increased risk for severe disease,” he said.

Others with autumn dose are considered current

People who do not meet the spring eligibility requirements but received a fall or winter dose as part of the current vaccination campaign, which began Oct. 16, “are considered fully up to date and do not require further vaccination this spring,” ministry spokesman Sean Hatchard told CBC News.

When asked whether people who do not meet the criteria, such as those caring for a family member who is in the at-risk group, could also opt to receive a booster shot in the spring, Hatchard reiterated that the campaign is aimed at New Brunswick residents who have personal risk factors for serious illness.

Anyone who has not received a COVID vaccine or has not had a COVID infection in the past six months is advised to get vaccinated soon, Hatchard said.

“This will help ensure they are protected now, but also that they meet the criteria for the six-month interval to receive a fall vaccination for the next respiratory season,” he said in an email.

Dr. Yves Léger, the province's deputy chief health officer, said vaccines offer the best protection against COVID-19.Dr. Yves Léger, the province's deputy chief health officer, said vaccines offer the best protection against COVID-19.

Dr. Yves Léger, the province's deputy chief health officer, said vaccines offer the best protection against COVID-19.

Dr. Yves Léger, the province's acting chief health officer, said people who did not receive a vaccine in the fall should get one now. (Government of New Brunswick/Zoom)

Even if you have already had COVID-19 and have already received two or more doses of the vaccine, you will still benefit from another dose, according to the department's COVID vaccine website.

“The combination of vaccine and infection produces hybrid immunity,” it says. “Hybrid immunity provides strong protection against new variants.”

Both vaccine protection and hybrid immunity will wane over time.

Spring cans available until June 15th

According to the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), COVID-19 vaccination in the spring is “especially important” for those who are at increased risk of severe disease and who did not receive a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine XBB.1.5 during the fall program.

The health department recommends that people who are eligible for the spring vaccination wait at least six months after their last vaccination or COVID-19 infection, whichever is later.

Eligible New Brunswick residents can book appointments starting March 25, either online, by calling 1-833-437-1424 or by contacting a participating pharmacy.

The vaccine used in the spring campaign is the same as the vaccine used in the fall campaign – an mRNA vaccine targeting the Omicron XBB.1.5 subvariant.

Although health authorities have refrained from calling the fall vaccinations “boosters,” the spring vaccination could certainly be called a booster “because the eligible group is at higher risk of severe disease and it is beneficial for them to 'boost' their immunity,” Hatchard said.

The spring campaign for people at increased risk will end on June 15 “so as not to affect the COVID-19 vaccination campaign in the fall,” the ministry's press release said.

NACI will … make recommendations regarding the timing of subsequent doses, if warranted. – National Advisory Committee on Immunization

When asked whether New Brunswick will now move to an annual COVID-19 vaccination in the fall for the general population, Hatchard did not answer directly.

“Public Health will review the guidance it receives later this year from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) on the COVID-19 fall campaign and decide which recommendations it will adopt regarding eligibility criteria,” he said in an email.

In its updated COVID-19 vaccine guidance, NACI states: “If a fall 2024 campaign is required, jurisdictions should consider a spring 2024 campaign end date to support eligibility for the fall 2024 campaign based on the recommended interval.”

“NACI will continue to monitor the evidence, including SARS-CoV-2 epidemiology, [vaccine effectiveness] of XBB.1.5 vaccines and the duration of protection, particularly with regard to severe outcomes, in order to make recommendations on the timing of subsequent doses of vaccine, if warranted,” the national advisory committee said.

According to Ministry of Health figures, only about 500 New Brunswick residents rolled up their sleeves to get vaccinated against COVID last week.

As of Tuesday, a total of 147,249 XBB.1.5 vaccinations had been administered since October 4, compared to 146,712 in the previous week.

COVID activity remains “moderate”

The two people who died of COVID-19 between March 3 and March 9 were both 65 years of age or older, according to Tuesday's Respiratory Watch report.

Her death brings the death toll from the pandemic to at least 1,019.

The number of 21 COVID hospitalizations and one intensive care admission increased compared to 20 and zero respectively in the previous week.

Of the people hospitalized for the virus or infection during the reporting week, five were between the ages of 45 and 64, one of whom required intensive care, and the other 16 were 65 years or older.

Six laboratory-confirmed COVID outbreaks were reported, up from five previously. Two of these occurred in nursing homes, while the other four occurred in facilities described only as “other.”

PCR (polymerase chain reaction) laboratory tests confirmed 60 new COVID cases, up from 74 previously.

The positivity rate – or the percentage of laboratory tests performed that produced a positive result – is five percent (previously six percent).

The regional breakdown of positive COVID cases includes:

  • Moncton Region, Zones 1 – 17.

  • Saint John Region, Zones 2 – 13.

  • Fredericton Region, Zones 3 – 16.

  • Edmundston Region, Zone 4 – two.

  • Campbellton Region, Zone 5 – zero.

  • Bathurst Region, Zone 6 – eight.

  • Miramichi Region, Zone 7 – four.

“COVID-19 activity remains moderate; most indicators (hospitalizations, intensive care unit admissions, number of outbreaks and number of deaths) remained stable during the current reporting period,” the report said.

7 teenagers among those hospitalized for flu

There were no deaths from influenza recorded between March 3 and 9, but 23 people were hospitalized, compared with 14 in last week's Respiratory Watch report.

No one had to be admitted to the intensive care unit; previously only one had been.

Among those hospitalized were three children under the age of four, four adolescents between the ages of five and 19, four people between the ages of 20 and 44, two between the ages of 45 and 64, and ten people aged 65 or older.

The number of 23 people hospitalized for flu between March 3 and 9 (represented by the green bar) is higher than the previous week and higher than the historical average for the 2017–18 to 2022–23 respiratory seasons (represented by the blue line).The number of 23 people hospitalized for flu between March 3 and 9 (represented by the green bar) is higher than the previous week and higher than the historical average for the 2017–18 to 2022–23 respiratory seasons (represented by the blue line).

The number of 23 people hospitalized for flu between March 3 and 9 (represented by the green bar) is higher than the previous week and higher than the historical average for the 2017–18 to 2022–23 respiratory seasons (represented by the blue line).

The number of 23 people hospitalized for the flu between March 3 and 9 (green bar) is higher than the previous week and higher than the historical average for the 2017-18 to 2022-23 respiratory seasons (blue line). (Government of New Brunswick)

Laboratory tests confirmed 145 new cases of flu (compared to 120 previously), bringing the total number of cases since the start of flu season on August 27 to 2,897.

The regional breakdown of new infections includes:

  • Moncton Region, Zones 1 – 57.

  • Saint John Region, Zones 2 – 24.

  • Fredericton Region, Zones 3 – 18.

  • Edmundston Region, Zones 4 – 22.

  • Campbellton Region, Zones 5 – 14.

  • Bathurst Region, Zones 6 – 10.

  • Miramichi Region, Zone 7 – zero.

The breakdown of new cases by type includes 108 cases of influenza B type, 28 cases of influenza A type (without subtyping), eight cases of influenza A type (H1N1 pdm09) and one case of influenza A type (H3N2).

The positivity rate is 12 percent (compared to 11 percent last year).

No laboratory-confirmed outbreaks of influenza or “influenza-like illness” have been reported in schools.

According to the report, flu activity remains stable.

As of Tuesday, a total of 221,808 New Brunswick residents have been vaccinated against the flu this season, according to the Ministry of Health.

COVID outbreaks continue to occur in hospitals

As the Horizon Health Network COVID dashboard shows, there were 21 active COVID-19 hospitalizations on Saturday, the same number as a week ago. One person is in intensive care, up from zero previously.

Six healthcare workers have been given sick leave after testing positive for the virus, up from eight previously.

As of Tuesday, two Horizon hospitals have COVID outbreaks. At Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton, there are outbreaks on the transitional care unit and rehabilitation/recovery unit, while Charlotte County Hospital in St. Stephen has an outbreak on the first floor family medicine unit.

Vitalité Health Network only updates its COVID-19 report monthly, with the next report not expected until March 26.

However, the outbreak page is updated more frequently and shows an outbreak in the multipurpose unit of Grand Falls General Hospital since last Friday.