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Mask mandate in hospitals dropped as vaccine booster program ramps up

The goal of the spring booster campaign is to strengthen waning protection for the most vulnerable
Island health patient ambassador Avril Oldridge hands out masks at the entrance to the Patient Care Centre at Royal Jubilee Hospital last October. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

As respiratory season winds down, a mask mandate in hospitals is being dropped and a COVID spring booster program is ramping up to strengthen waning protection for the most vulnerable.

“We are returning to the rules that were in place prior to respiratory illness season,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said Monday on the suspension of the mask mandate, likely to be a seasonal requirement.

The B.C. Health Ministry said given the decreased rates of viral respiratory infections in the community, additional infection prevention and control measures implemented last fall — such as masks — in health-care settings are no longer required at all times.

People are still encouraged to wear masks in health-care settings when appropriate, and to continue to cover coughs and stay away from others when feeling sick.

Health-care workers will continue to wear appropriate personal protective equipment, including masks and respirators, in accordance with risk assessments.

Meanwhile, invitations for springtime COVID-19 vaccine booster shots through pharmacies, health authority clinics and some primary care offices and community health centres are going out this week, offering free shots until June 30.

Reminders will be sent via the province’s Get Vaccinated online system to the approximate 3.9 million people who have not yet received the latest — XBB.1.5 — formulation of the mRNA vaccines.

B.C. has more than 900,000 doses of Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines for adults, infants and children in stock and approximately 13,000 doses for those who want a non-mRNA vaccine.

The shots are free for everyone six months and older.

While the peak of the respiratory illness season has passed, the SARS CoV-2 virus continues to circulate at lower levels in the community, more seriously affecting the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, the ministry says.

The 2023-24 respiratory illness immunization campaign launched on Oct. 10, 2023, saw 1.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines and 1.5 million doses of influenza vaccines administered.

“B.C. had the best response in all of Canada,” Dix said in a media availability.

COVID-19 vaccine protection wanes over time, particularly in older people.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization and B.C. health officials recommend an additional dose of the XBB.1.5 COVID-19 vaccine for those: 65 and older; Indigenous adults 55 and older; adult residents of long-term care homes and assisted-living facilities including those awaiting placement; and anyone over age six months diagnosed as clinically extremely vulnerable.

Anyone who wants the COVID-19 vaccine can register through the online GetVaccinated system at contact the ­province’s call centre at 1-833-838-2323 to book an appointment.

People can also head to any local pharmacy where the vaccine is available.

Vaccine appointments are available in all regions, according to the Health Ministry.

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