Do you need a spring COVID-19 booster vaccine? What to know, plus updated guidelines for the season

One Canadian expert says everyone should still be getting a COVID-19 vaccine every six months.

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Close-up of a female doctor putting a band-aid on the arm of a woman after giving vaccine injection in the clinic. Healthcare professional hands placing a bandage on a female's arm after covid-19 vaccination.
As winter comes to an end, some Canadians might wonder if it's still necessary to get a COVID-19 booster shot. (Photo via Getty Images)

With spring and the end of flu season just around the corner, many Canadians are wondering whether or not they need an updated COVID-19 vaccine — and what the future of the virus may look like.

In January, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) released recommendations for administering a booster dose of COVID-19 vaccines in the spring, particularly targeting Canadians with a heightened vulnerability to severe illness caused by the virus. These are typically people aged 65 or older, or those who are immunocompromised.

But Dr. Horacio Bach, a researcher and clinical assistant professor at the University of British Columbia's faculty of medicine, noted everyone can benefit from a COVID-19 booster every six months, or six months from their last date of infection.

"Antibodies don't last. After six months, they start to fade," he told Yahoo Canada. "We've known that from the very beginning, even before the vaccine, even for people naturally infected."

Still, the NACI recommended crucial high-risk individuals get their extra dose of the latest vaccine first to better protect them against the current variants of the Omicron origin. People considered high-risk include:

  • Anyone aged 65 and up

  • Adults living in long-term care homes or senior living centres

  • Anyone six months of age or older who is immunocompromised

As of right now, only Ontario residents identified as higher risk will be able to access spring booster shots starting in April. British Columbia is set to announce its own guidance soon, while people in Manitoba and Nova Scotia are already able to access their spring booster.

A health-care worker wearing blue surgical gloves pulls a COVID-19 vaccine liquid from a vial to vaccinate a patient
Antibodies don't last, according to an expert, meaning it's important to stay on top of your COVID-19 vaccination. (Photo via Getty Images)

Is COVID-19 becoming a seasonal virus like the flu?

Some research shows COVID-19 could ultimately develop a seasonal pattern, but for now, it hasn't disappeared in the spring or summer like the flu does.

"The flu is seasonal. That's the reason we get one shot in November. What we see in COVID-19 is not as seasonal due to the number of hospitalizations," Bach said. "It's not something that disappears in the spring or summer. We don't know the behaviour of these viruses; everything is changing."

It may seem like COVID-19 is following a seasonal pattern, but only because flu season is a convenient time to remind people to get vaccinated. While COVID-19 infection rates tend to lower in the warmer months, they still persist, not reaching the same low levels as the flu does in the warmer months.

Why are older people at higher risk of severe COVID-19 infections?

According to the NACI, people aged 80 and older face the highest risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Nevertheless, the recommendation now includes those aged 65 and above, recognizing the risk of severe infection varies across older adult age groups.

This demographic tends to deal with ailments, like gastrointestinal problems, high blood pressure and other underlying diseases, that put them at greater risk. Some are taking medication for other illnesses that render them immunocompromised, too.

"We age and there are problems and that's reflected in the immune response," Bach said. “Someone who's 60 to 80 may not be as strong as when they were 20 years old."

Getting a spring booster is especially important for this demographic if they didn't receive a booster last fall.

Persone places their comforting hands on the shoulders of an older man. (Photo via Getty Images)
People aged 80 and older face the highest risk of severe illness from COVID-19. (Photo via Getty Images)

Is masking still necessary to protect against COVID-19?

Despite masking and social distancing no longer being mandatory, the recommendations remain the same: Mask up, stay home when you're sick and wash your hands.

"[Masks] are highly protective as long as they have at least three layers because the virus gets trapped there," Bach shared.

While he recommended wearing K95 or KN95 masks, even surgical masks are better than nothing, "as long as you wear it properly." That means well-fitted to the face and no gaping holes on either side of the mask.

Though some people may feel COVID-19 is just like getting the flu, the real risk many don't consider is long COVID, Bach added. Long COVID symptoms can include tiredness or fatigue, difficulty breathing, cough, chest pain, sleep disturbances and more.

At least 65 million people worldwide are estimated to have long COVID, according to a study in Nature Communications. That's 10 per cent of all severe acute respiratory infections, which is a high percentage, according to Bach, even though it sounds small. It's also likely much higher due to undocumented cases.

"If you get long COVID, you'll be impaired for we don't know how long and we don't know how to treat it yet," Bach noted. "Everyone is different. It's better to protect [yourself] than get sick."

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