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COVID-19: Suffering from vaccine fatigue? Here’s why it’s still important to get the jab

Health experts say after six months the level of immunity the vaccines provide starts to decline.

File photo of a vaccine. Photo by Getty Images

As B.C. begins to roll out its fall COVID-19 booster shot campaign, there is concern among health professionals that the province may be in the grips of vaccine fatigue.

But, according to an infectious disease expert at UBC, it’s just as important to get a jab now as it was at the height of the pandemic.

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Dr. Horacio Bach is a researcher at the Immunity and Infection Research Centre and a clinical assistant professor at UBC’s Faculty of Medicine.

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He says after six months the level of immunity the vaccines provide starts to decline, and with new variants of the virus people are not protected.

“The way the antibodies work is like a key and lock. So you have a key you can open the lock but when your key is different, you cannot open the lock. So that is what’s happening. The virus is making what we call mutations, new changes…that are not recognized properly by the antibodies,” he said.

New variants of concern are Eris, or the EG.5 variant and XBB. 1.16, or Arcturus. Another emerging variant of concern is called BA.2.86, or Pirola, which is a highly-mutated omicron subvariant that was first detected in Denmark in July. Health officials are keeping an eye on this one although so far there are only a few confirmed cases of Pirola in B.C.

Bach is worried that people will mistakenly think that because they are healthy and have had a booster shot or two that they are protected.

“The virus doesn’t care if you are healthy or not,” he said, noting there are concerning studies that show COVID causing inflammation in the brain.

Vaccine or booster fatigue can be caused by a number of reasons, including misconceptions that there are too many immunizations or that older booster shots protect against the disease. People may also still be concerned about side effects.

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However, Bach said with hospitalizations increasing in B.C., there is a serious risk of overcrowding hospitals already dealing with emergency room closures and staff burnout.

Last week, the B.C. CDC said COVID-19 cases nearly doubled over a four-week span, from 366 in the first week to 628 in the final week. Weekly hospitalizations fluctuated between 159 and 178, with that highest figure registered in the latest reporting week.

As well, Bach said research has shown that as many as one in five COVID-19 patients could experience some form of long COVID, which the new vaccine can help prevent.

“You don’t know how this (illness) will affect your lifestyle for three months or maybe six months,” said Bach.

On Thursday, Health Minister Adrian Dix and the provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said two newly formulated vaccines targeting the latest coronavirus variants have been approved by Health Canada and will be on their way to B.C. soon.

Long-term-care and health-care workers will be vaccinated as soon as vaccines are available here. Then invitations will start going out to the priority group of seniors, those in long-term care, Indigenous people and those with chronic conditions.

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Henry said the province is starting to see COVID infections go up, and the first flu cases are showing up as well.

The new vaccines, Moderna’s Spikevax and Pfizer-BioNTech’s Comirnaty Omicron XBB.1.5 shot, are formulated to protect against the widely circulating XBB1.5 variant. Approval for a non-mRNA vaccine by Novavax is pending.

Also announced Thursday was that universal masking will return to B.C. health-care settings starting Oct. 3. Bach is concerned that the direction is too soft on masks and there should be a mandate.

He recommends that everyone start wearing masks again in crowded areas like public transit.

[email protected]

—with files from Joseph Ruttle

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