Simon Fraser scientist says COVID booster may not be necessary for all Canadians

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COVID vaccines are doing such a good job here that healthy Canadians may not need a booster shot.

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That’s the word from Dr. Mark Brockman, a professor at Simon Fraser and member of CoVaRR-Net — the Coronavirus Variants Rapid Response Network (Immunology & Vaccine Protection Pillar).

Obviously, a COVID booster is necessary for those at high risk. That third shot is required for the elderly or immunocompromised who may not produce as many antibodies after two doses as the rest of the population does. Additionally, the number of antibodies in those populations declines much faster.

(Vaccinated healthcare workers might also need a booster as their antibody levels decrease, to ensure they do not unwittingly contribute to onward transmission to vulnerable vaccinated patients, such as the elderly and immunocompromised.)

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For these groups, a third shot of COVID vaccine, “Gets them to a level of antibodies that would otherwise be normal in a healthy person receiving two doses,” Brockman said.

The professor reiterated that the key message here is that COVID vaccines are doing an amazing job in Canada.

“The protection provided by two doses is excellent. Most healthy adults may not need a third dose,” he said.

There will certainly be warning signs if that third dose becomes crucial for all.

“The best evidence that we need to get boosters into the whole population is when clinically, we start to see a lot of fully vaccinated people at the hospital with more severe infection,” he said.

“If that happens, there might need to be third-dose recommendations for younger and healthier parts of the population. When people show less ability to protect themselves, that’s the only evidence that will tell us, irrefutably, that we need a third dose.”

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It’s unfortunate that this is the measuring stick, Brockman concedes, because it means we have to see an uptick in serious cases.

“Right now, those are overwhelmingly among the unvaccinated,” he said.

Brockman noted that some people, “Will feel better protected if they have that option for a booster. I would not encourage anyone to refuse it, but for the vast majority of healthy people, two doses seem to be working well.”

This may change, of course, and is changing already in older adults and special cases. But the decision-making around getting a booster is a little different for healthy people.

“It’s far more important to get the first two doses. I would encourage anyone who hasn’t had the vaccine to get those two shots. It’s a bit more open to choice on the third,” he said.

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

Brockman reminded us that huge swaths of the world haven’t had access to any COVID vaccines, and talk of booster shots raises issues of global equity.  

“If we give every Canadian a third dose right now, we are to some degree contributing to having fewer vaccines available to the global population,” he said.

“We know where the variants are going to rise up — and it’s in unvaccinated or partly vaccinated populations. They are far less likely to rise in Canada.”

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