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Is a Spring COVID-19 Booster Necessary? Studies Support Additional Dose for High-Risk Populations

New guidelines suggest that certain high-risk groups may benefit from receiving an additional dose of a COVID-19 vaccine this spring, with a potential shift towards more frequent vaccinations akin to the annual flu shot for the broader population.

Medical experts have emphasized the importance of staying up-to-date with vaccinations, particularly for older individuals or those with compromised immune systems, as falling behind on shots can pose health risks.

Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) laid the groundwork for spring vaccinations in 2024, recommending an extra dose of the latest XBB.1.5-based vaccines for individuals at an increased risk of severe COVID. This includes adults aged 65 and older, residents of long-term care facilities, and moderately to severely immunocompromised individuals.

While pregnancy isn’t specifically addressed in the recommendations, federal guidance underscores the importance of vaccination during pregnancy to protect against serious outcomes for both the mother and baby.

Provincial guidelines vary but generally align with NACI’s recommendations, with high-risk individuals being eligible for another dose of the vaccine. For example, Manitoba has already begun offering additional doses to high-risk individuals, while Ontario and Nova Scotia have outlined plans for spring vaccination campaigns targeting vulnerable populations.

The rationale behind these guidelines stems from the increased risk of severe COVID outcomes among older adults and those with underlying health conditions. Data from Canada indicates that the majority of COVID deaths have occurred in older age groups and individuals with compromised immune systems.

While the frequency of COVID vaccinations may differ for various population groups, there is ongoing uncertainty regarding the trajectory of the virus. However, it’s unlikely that recommendations for less frequent vaccinations will be made anytime soon, with vaccinations potentially aligning with seasonal flu vaccine campaigns in the future.

Recent studies have highlighted the efficacy of updated vaccines in reducing the risk of severe illness, particularly among older and immunocompromised individuals. However, the benefits of more frequent vaccinations are more pronounced in older age groups compared to younger, healthier populations.

Overall, the guidance emphasizes the importance of staying up-to-date with COVID vaccinations, with ongoing efforts needed to mitigate the spread of the virus and protect vulnerable populations.

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