Canada Detects New COVID-19 Variant, Preps Updated Vaccines for Fall Launch


In response to the evolving threat of COVID-19, federal scientists are honing their focus onto international research to measure the effectiveness of updated vaccines confronting the latest variant – the Omicron BA.2.86. This new variant made its first known appearance in Canada this week, specifically in British Columbia, marking Canada as the seventh country worldwide to detect it.

Health Canada stands at the forefront of this routine, currently examining applications for the upcoming iterations of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines, tailored to combat the dominant XBB.1.5 variant. The launch of these vaccines is slated for the fall as part of an expansive vaccination initiative.

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An insight into the global spread paints a peculiar picture – a mere 13 instances of the variant BA. 2.86 has been recorded so far, scattered across six countries. Investigators are intent on analyzing these samples to gauge the variant’s potential influence on the severity and spread of the disease, and the effectiveness of existing diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines in tackling it.

The unveiling of this variant in Canada belays definitive conclusions on its prevalence. However, as clinical data begins to pour into the Public Health Agency of Canada, a more comprehensive understanding of the variant is expected to surface.

Current cases involving the XBB.1.5 variant remain relatively subdued, demonstrating stable or rising trends across all provinces and territories reporting the variant. Yet, recent outbreaks announced by hospitals in Windsor, Ontario, and Montague, Prince Edward Island, suggest the situation is continually developing.

The BA.2.86 variant was identified in a B.C. civilian with no recent history of travel abroad. Despite the case, local health authorities and the Health Minister maintain that the variant has not shown signs of increasing the severity of illnesses, and that the infected individual has not required hospitalization.

Statistical data reveals that by mid-June, over 80% of Canadians had received their primary series of COVID vaccines. Newfoundland and Labrador lead the distribution, boasting an uptake rate close to 92%. Contrastingly, the Northwest Territories and Alberta trail behind, with vaccination rates of 75.5% and 76% respectively.

As Canada steers towards a semblance of normalcy after an extended tussle with COVID-19, it’s vital to remember that the mutating virus still poses considerable risks, particularly for the elderly. However, only around 21% of Canadians in the 80-and-older bracket have been administered vaccine boosters or completed a primary vaccination series recently.

Taking note of the mutating virus and patterns of infection, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization urges Canadians anticipating chemotherapy or major surgeries to consider a booster shot. Still, it recommends most people to await the release of the updated vaccines.

Studying patterns from the southern hemisphere, particularly Australia, during their respiratory season, brings further insights. They dealt with a triple threat of influenza, RSV, and COVID, with healthcare worker absences significantly impacting care delivery. Their routine vaccinations consisted of the unmodified bivalent COVID vaccines, which underscores the urgency for updated vaccines to prevent a similar crisis in Canada.

With a new respiratory season looming and potential repetitions of past shortages, it’s crucial for Canadians not to waver on getting a booster in the fall, paired with their influenza vaccines. Residents aged 60 and above may even have an RSV vaccine available.

With many Canadians approaching a year since their last booster shot, the importance of fall vaccination with the updated formula is further underlined. These revamped vaccines will offer heightened protection against the circulating Omicron variants, offering a renewed level of defence in the ongoing battle against COVID-19.