The Northwest Territories expects rollout of new, Omicron-specific Covid-19 vaccines to take sufficiently long that the old shot will be offered as a booster this fall.
Canadian and United States health agencies have begun authorizing vaccines targeted at the Omicron variant. The new products, known as bivalent vaccines, are essentially two shots in one and cover “original” Covid-19 as well as Omicron.
“After a thorough and independent scientific review of the evidence, Health Canada has determined that the bivalent Moderna Spikevax booster is safe and effective,” the federal agency announced this week, adding Moderna’s product “was also found to generate a good immune response against the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants.”
Where some Canadian provinces have offered second booster shots – or fourth doses – of existing vaccines against Covid-19, the NWT government has for months held off doing so, stating it would instead offer the new, Omicron-specific shots as soon as they were available.
“We are holding off on expanding eligibility until the fall, when we expect a new vaccine product that will provide more effective protection against Omicron and its subvariants,” health minister Julie Green stated in July.
However, the territory on Friday told Cabin Radio it was changing course because of the anticipated wait for new supplies.
“At this point, it’s the GNWT’s understanding that Canada – and the NWT by extension – will almost certainly not have enough of the bivalent Omicron-containing mRNA Covid-19 vaccine for the full population,” Department of Health and Social Services spokesperson Jeremy Gibson Bird said by email.
“Our original intent was to wait to expand fourth booster doses until we were able to offer the new vaccine product to all 18-plus residents. Now that we know that won’t be the case for quite some time, we’ll plan on providing access to the regular vaccine product as a booster to offer some protection until supplies of the bivalent Omicron-containing vaccine become more available.”
Bird said that approach was consistent with the recommendation of Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization. Once supplies are available, he said, access will be “prioritized based on age and risk factors.”
The NWT’s new approach means residents can expect a fall vaccine campaign – starting in October – that offers a second booster of existing shots alongside the flu vaccine, essentially as happened this time last year, with the Omicron-specific shot offered to the most at-risk groups as soon as possible.
“Exact details of timing and access are being determined and will be announced when finalized,” Bird wrote.