A registered pharmacist technician carefully fills the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 mRNA vaccine at a vaccine clinic during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Tuesday, December 15, 2020. The National Advisory Committee on Immunizations is set to release new guidance this morning on the use of COVID-19 vaccine boosters as public health faces down the threat of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

A registered pharmacist technician carefully fills the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 mRNA vaccine at a vaccine clinic during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Tuesday, December 15, 2020. The National Advisory Committee on Immunizations is set to release new guidance this morning on the use of COVID-19 vaccine boosters as public health faces down the threat of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Canada’s vaccine advisory panel strongly recommends boosters for those 50 and up

Recommendations come after urgent federal request tied to fighting the new Omicron variant

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization now strongly recommends booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines for people over the age of 50.

The committee has also strengthened its recommendation for several other groups, and now strongly suggests boosters for people who received a full series of the Oxford-AstraZeneca or Janssen vaccine, those in or from First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities and front-line health workers.

NACI has also suggested a booster dose may be offered to people 18 to 49 years old at least six months after they receive their first two doses.

The new recommendations come after an urgent request from the federal government on the role of COVID-19 vaccine boosters in fighting the new Omicron variant.

The new variant came to light late last week, and has sparked tougher border measures around the world.

The World Health Organization has warned the high number of mutations could signal that it is more transmissible than previous strains.

“We know that Canadians are asking increasingly about whether they should … receive boosters, and that question is obviously of greater importance now with the new variant,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said in a press conference Tuesday.

It was at the same press conference that ministers announced a series of strict new testing and isolation measures for travellers coming into Canada as part of an effort to make sure no one unwittingly imports a case of the new variant to Canada. The government has also barred foreign nationals who recently transited through 10 African countries from entering.

Still, cases of Omicron have already cropped up across the country. Though most involve recent travel, one case, reported in Alberta, involved household transmission.

On Nov. 19, the advisory committee suggested there is no evidence to date of waning of protection against severe disease from COVID-19 in the general fully-vaccinated population.

The emerging evidence at the time suggested that while the vaccine becomes less effective at preventing infection over time, protection against severe illness and death appears to be more durable.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday when it comes to boosters, the priority is to follow NACI’s advice on who should get them, and when, in light of the Omicron variant.

Vaccine supply will not be an issue, he said.

“We have lots of vaccines for boosters in Canada, we’re receiving more into the new year. We are fine in terms of quantity. The issue is, what is the best recommendation for people to get those boosters and when,” he said.

Despite NACI’s advice to date, many provinces have gone ahead with their own COVID-19 booster strategies and in some cases have pledged to offer them to any adult who wants one in coming weeks.

—Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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