After more than two years of life under lockdown, Canadians are eager to get back to normal and leave the pandemic behind. Healthcare professionals know better: for the foreseeable future, COVID-19 will be a part of the “new normal.”
Healthcare providers face the considerable challenge of trying to ensure patients’ safety in an ever-changing medical landscape. New variants and subvariants continue to proliferate, each seemingly more transmissible than the last. Fortunately, although vaccines are less effective at preventing any infection, they continue to be effective in preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death.
Boosters: Who, When, and How Often?
On June 29, 2022, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) updated its recommendations in an interim guidance statement. The Committee now strongly recommends that individuals at risk of severe illness from COVID-19 should be offered a fall booster dose, regardless of the number of booster doses previously received. Groups at risk include:
- Older adults (at least 65 years of age)
- Residents of long-term care facilities or congregate living settings for seniors
- Anyone at least 12 years of age who resides in a congregate living setting
- Anyone at least 12 years of age with an underlying medical condition that makes them at high risk of experiencing severe COVID-19
- Adults residing in or originating from First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities
- Adults in communities that are racialized or otherwise marginalized (for example, people with disabilities) and disproportionately affected by COVID-19
NACI also recommends that all other people between the ages of 12 and 64 may be offered a fall booster dose, regardless of the number of previous booster doses. Booster doses should be offered at six-month intervals.
Overcoming Vaccine Hesitancy
Vaccine hesitancy has been identified as a significant barrier to developing a successful COVID-19 vaccination program. Reasons for hesitancy vary. COVID 19-specific reasons include concerns about new types of vaccines, worries about harmful effects of the vaccines, favouring natural immunity, and the speed with which the vaccines were developed.
Healthcare professionals play a central role in overcoming vaccine hesitancy because their recommendations strongly influence vaccine acceptance by vaccine-hesitant patients. Health providers can address hesitancy by:
- Being proactive. Instead of waiting for patients to come to you, initiate a conversation about vaccination.
- Listening to patients. Identify your patients’ concerns so that you can deal with them.
- Keeping things (relatively) simple. Inform and educate patients, but be careful not to overwhelm them with too much technical information.
- Avoiding vaccine myths. Repeating myths can actually reduce patients’ intention to vaccinate.
- Acknowledging risks. Too-strong denial can increase the perceived risks of vaccination.
- Continuing the conversation. Take the time to help patients move from hesitancy towards acceptance, even if this requires discussing vaccination on more than one occasion.
COVID Vaccine Q&A
Below are examples of questions patients may ask about COVID-19 and suggested responses.
Q. Can mRNA vaccines alter your DNA?
A. No. The mRNA never interacts with DNA because it does not enter the nucleus (where DNA is located). The mRNA is also eliminated from your body in a few days.
Q. I’ve already had COVID-19. Do I really need to be vaccinated?
A. Yes. Being infected with COVID-19 can provide strong protection, but it’s less reliable than the protection provided by vaccination.
Q. With all the new variants, are the vaccines still effective?
A. Currently available vaccines are effective in preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Booster doses are recommended to strengthen immunity and extend the period of protection.
Q. Everyone seems to be catching COVID, vaccinated or not. What’s the point of a booster?
A. The evidence suggests that less than 40 percent of Canadians aged 17 and older had been infected with the COVID-19 virus as of the end of April 2022. While COVID-19 vaccines don’t provide 100 percent protection, they do lower the risk of becoming infected. Equally important, they reduce the risk of serious illness and death.
Clinicians: Learn to identify patients who need booster doses and build confidence in discussing booster vaccination with your patients by taking this complimentary course.