Health officials in British Columbia anticipate both COVID-19 and influenza surges in the fall, and project the latter may cause more hospitalizations than the coronavirus.
B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer, Bonnie Henry, said Wednesday that because most people’s antibodies slow down over time, in about three to six months after a vaccination, COVID-19 infections can potentially increase again in November and December.
She said although B.C. saw little or almost no influenza for the past couple of years because of COVID-19 restrictions that reduced travel and socialization, there’s a possible rise in influenza this fall.
“We’re going to see influenza, I have no doubt, and the worst case we might start seeing is a surge at the same time that our immunity from our last booster doses for COVID is [waning], as well as in November and December,” Dr. Henry said at a news conference.
COVID-19 projections suggest up to 700 additional patients may require hospitalization in the coming months. Currently there are about 350 people in hospital with the virus, Health Minister Adrian Dix said at the same event.
He said influenza projections suggest up to 1,200 additional patients may require hospitalization at any given time.
Mr. Dix said the province is preparing for an influx of patients and is opening up additional hospital bed capacity, and would consider reducing services including postponing surgeries if necessary, though he said that is “the worst-case scenario.”
Dr. Henry said the province will start to offer influenza vaccines as early as next week for individuals at risk, and will expand to the general population for those six months old and older beginning Oct. 11. Seniors can get an enhanced influenza vaccine this year, she added.
Dr. Henry encouraged the public to receive the bivalent COVID-19 booster, which targets the original and Omicron strains of coronavirus, as it protects both infection and reinfection, she noted.
Findings presented by Dr. Henry on Wednesday suggest children have the least vaccine-induced antibodies, but have the most infection-induced antibodies or hybrid immunity, while older adults have less infection-induced antibodies but increased vaccine-induced antibody.
“It also shows that children, they have not had as much access to vaccines over time, and particularly since Omicron has come on the scene, they now have a very high rate of evidence of infection, but that has not translated to hospitalizations, severe illness, or long-term consequences in children, which is the good news,” she said.
Last week, Public Health was criticized by an advocacy group when media reported that a preprint study, co-authored by Dr. Henry, shows at least 70 to 80 per cent of children and youth in Greater Vancouver and the Fraser Valley had been infected with COVID-19. An advocate said parents were misled that schools are safe.
Dr. Henry said Wednesday that children in schools reflect what’s happening in the community and she noted that people are more likely to be exposed in everyday activities in the community. She added that studies have shown that teachers weren’t more at risk.
“We don’t see schools amplifying transmission,” Dr. Henry said.
Vic Khanna, chair of the Vancouver school district’s parent advisory committee, said because of the waning immunity among children and the spread of other diseases at schools, there’s an urgent need to improve air quality in schools.
“What we want is verified quality air, and we have a very simple reason to ask for it,” he said.
With a report from The Canadian Press