Despite a relaxing of COVID-19 public health measures in 2022 related to masks and gathering indoors, last year was in fact the most deadly for the disease in Canada according to federal data.
To date, over 50,000 Canadians have died from COVID. More than 81% of COVID–19 deaths occur in people over age 65.
Clearly, as much as we might all like to forget about the risks of COVID-19 transmission, the reality is that we still need to stay vigilant. This is particularly the case for vulnerable populations such as older Canadians and those who are immunocompromised.
The good news is that while there are still significant covid risks to consider, we also have multiple layers of protection available to us.
Along with common sense measures such as wearing masks, hand washing or sanitizing and avoiding dense crowds indoors where viruses can transmit more readily, there are a number of significant levels of protection available to older adults and those with compromised immune systems.
Vaccinations and Boosters
Free vaccines are available for everyone in Canada.
According to the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to be very effective at preventing severe disease, including hospitalization and death due to COVID-19.
Public Health authorities recommend that you should get vaccinated even if you’ve been previously infected or think you may have been infected. While a previous COVID-19 infection can provide some protection against reinfection, that protection also fades over time.
Staying up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines, including boosters, remains the best way to protect yourself. This may also help prevent long-term complications from COVID-19 infection.
Most COVID-19 vaccines begin with 2 doses. These initial doses are called a primary series.
The immune response to the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine is not as strong or sustained as two doses. The second dose is essential for better, longer-lasting protection.
Doses of the COVID-19 vaccines received after the primary series are called booster doses. Booster doses increase your defences by activating your immune response to restore protection that may have decreased over time.
If it’s been 6 months or longer since your last vaccine dose or COVID-19 infection, get a booster dose by contacting your local public health unit, or health care provider.
Scientists and vaccine manufacturers are updating COVID-19 vaccines by to specifically target the circulating virus strains. A “bivalent” vaccine booster targets two coronavirus strains. This helps to create a broader immune response and improve the strength and duration of protection against circulating variants.
Whether it’s a booster dose or a primary series, you may be offered a different COVID-19 vaccine than the one you received previously. It’s safe and effective to do so.
Learn more from the Government of Canada about:
- People who are at risk of more severe disease or outcomes
- How to get Vaccinated
- COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in Canada
- Bivalent COVID-19 mRNA vaccines COVID-19 booster dose
- COVID-19 booster dose: Contact your province or territory
Protection for Immunocompromised Canadians
While vaccines can provide excellent protection for the majority of Canadians, some people, including those who are immunocompromised may receive little to no protection from vaccines or prior Covid-19 infection. These high-risk individuals include patients with cancer, certain immune diseases, or those who are treated with immune-suppressive therapy, or people on dialysis. The toll on this group has been considerable.
Monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) are proteins that target the virus that causes infection, and have been approved by Health Canada for COVID-19 for pre-exposure prophylaxis, meaning they can be taken prior to COVID-19 exposure, to prevent the illness. This is in addition to currently approved monoclonal antibodies in Canada that are used for treating symptomatic COVID-19.
Monoclonal antibodies are not a substitute for vaccination in individuals for whom COVID-19 vaccination is recommended. The efficacy of monoclonal antibodies is related to the match of the MAbs to the prevailing strains of the COVID-19. However, for those for whom vaccination is not effective nor possible, there is a new option that offers protection.
Immunocompromised Canadians can find out if they need extra protection at hugagain.ca
Vulnerable Populations Who Have Tested Positive for COVID
If you are considered vulnerable and test positive for COVID-19, there are also treatment options available to you, such as antivirals and monoclonal antibodies. All patients who are at higher risk of severe outcomes based on clinical assessment (including immunocompromised individuals and those over 60 years of age), have tested positive, present within five days of symptom onset, and do not have contraindications are eligible.
Antivirals are drugs used to treat COVID-19 that stop the virus from multiplying, which can help the body to overcome the infection and may help an individual to become better faster.
These medications should be taken in a short window of time after testing positive for COVID-19, so be sure to act quickly following a positive COVID-19 test. In some provinces, pharmacists can prescribe the antivirals.
Monoclonal antibodies and antivirals are not a substitute for vaccination in individuals for whom COVID-19 vaccination is recommended.
Options available to the Immunocompromised Community
Vaccines are the primary option for preventing COVID-19. They work by causing the body to produce its own protection (antibodies) against the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 infection.
Antivirals are drugs that stop the virus multiplying, which can help the body to overcome the infection, and may help a person get better faster.
Monoclonal Antibodies are proteins that work to prevent the SARS-CoV-2 virus from infecting healthy cells in the body, which can help prevent getting COVID-19 illness. They are not a substitute for vaccination in individuals for whom COVID-19 vaccination is recommended.
Monoclonal Antibodies are proteins that work by attaching to specific targets on the virus that is causing infection, preventing the virus from entering and infecting the cells within your body. This may help reduce the risk of the infection getting worse and/or reduce the risk of hospitalization.
CARP encourages everyone to keep up with the recommended vaccine schedule for COVID-19 and to speak to your health care professional about all of the options available to help protect you from a virus that has not gone away and poses its greatest risk to older adults and those who are immune compromised.
CARP’s Radio Spot:
CARP Message in Zoomer Magazine, February, 2023