As researchers anticipate another wave of COVID-19 this summer, BC health officials are once again urging the public to get vaccinated — especially the 1.3 million residents sitting on unused booster invites.
The independent COVID-19 modeling group has predicted that the Omicron subvariant BA.5, believed to be responsible for most new cases, will fuel a new wave that could peak in August, although it’s unclear what impact that will have. will affect the already strained health care system.
“My prediction is that the number of cases will increase, the number of hospitalizations will increase, but my current hope is that it will not be as bad as the BA.2 wave,” said study researcher Dr. Sarah Otto to The Canadian Press last week.
On Monday, Health Minister Adrian Dix said the county’s pandemic planning is currently focused on the likelihood of a “very challenging fall”, and suggested second boosters will be an important aspect of the government’s strategy. .
“Everyone would plan on getting another dose in the fall – everyone,” Dix said at a press conference on the development of a new hospital in Surrey.
The minister suggested the next booster could be tailored for certain strains of COVID-19, similar to annual flu shots, but noted that current vaccines have been shown to be effective in reducing the likelihood of hospitalizations and serious illness from a range of variants and sub-variants.
Asked if the government could bring back any of its past COVID-19 restrictions, such as the indoor mask mandate, Dix said the province will again follow the advice of public health officials.
“No option is ever ruled out,” he added, noting that officials still recommend the use of masks indoors.
“I’m the health minister, I have access to a lot of health information; I wear masks in indoor public areas,” Dix said.
Meanwhile, the minister pointed out that there are still more than a million British Columbians who, for whatever reason, have not responded to their invitation for a first booster.
“Right now it’s important whether you’re called to get your vaccine — fourth, third, second or first — to get it,” he said.
The number of hospital admissions from COVID-19 has been declining for weeks, although the province has recently recorded an increase in the number of health care workers put off due to illness. About 16,400 health workers took at least one day off from work during the week of June 20, Dix said, compared to the roughly 15,000 registered a few weeks earlier.
The highest disease levels are recorded in regions of higher transmission, especially Northern Health, Interior Health and Island Health.
Hospital staff policy and planning coordinator Mike Old said health professionals are facing an “alarming” situation when it comes to COVID-19.
“We’re seeing health care job openings due to illness that we haven’t seen since late January,” he said. “Employees are really, really burned out.”
Old said in a poll of members that one in four said their employers don’t fill for illness or other job openings, and one in three are considering leaving the health care sector in the next two years.
“It’s really important that members of our community understand that when they protect themselves from the transmission of COVID, they are also protecting our health care system,” he said. “Our health workers need all the help they can get.”
BC Nurses’ Union president Aman Grewal said nurses are also burnt out and understaffed, and while hospital admissions are lower than in the past, there are still COVID-19 patients receiving high-quality care need.
“This has not gone away. There’s a new wave underway, and maybe another one in the fall,” she said. “We are also seeing fewer and fewer people wearing face masks. And they come together and go out in public areas where they weren’t before, so the spread is taking place.”
Grewal said that with the current short workforce, nurses may also be taking over from others.
“There has been no break at all for our nurses,” she said. “They’re going to be exhausted, they’re going to get tired, they’re going to be exposed to the virus, and they’re going to get sick.”
Both health care unions said investing in recruiting and retaining employees is critical.
After two years of the pandemic, public health systems across Canada are under strain, with staffing issues leading to delayed treatments and, in some cases, temporary emergency room closures.
Dix said BC is preparing to strengthen “every facility in our health care system” while recruiting and training more workers to brace for any pandemic-related curveballs that may arise during the next season of respiratory disease.
“We are planning what we will encounter in the fall,” he said, “but we don’t know what we will encounter in the fall.”