National Immunization Awareness Week includes COVID

Carol Baldwin
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Wakaw Recorder

On Friday, April 19th, the Saskatchewan Health Authority advised that from April 8 and continuing until June 30, 2024, some Saskatchewan residents will have access to an additional dose of the XBB.1.5 COVID-19 vaccine (the Omicron subvariant that emerged in early 2023) if it has been six or more months from their last XBB.1.5 COVID-19 vaccine dose or COVID-19 infection. The following groups that are identified as being at high risk of severe COVID-19 illness and outcomes are eligible for this additional dose:

  • Adults 65 years of age and older.
  • Adults 18 to 64 years of age who reside in long-term care facilities, personal care homes, and congregate living settings (for example: assisted living settings) that includes residents who are 65 years of age and older.
  • Individuals six months of age and older who are moderately to severely immunocompromised due to immunosuppressive therapy or due to medical conditions.

Additionally, until June 30, 2024, individuals over six months of age who are not yet immunized with XBB.1.5 COVID-19 vaccine are eligible to receive or begin an age-appropriate XBB.1.5 dose or series if there have been six months from their previous non-XBB.1.5 dose or previous COVID-19 infection (whichever interval is longer). As of July 1, 2024, only moderately to severely immunocompromised children who are six months to four years old may start an age-appropriate XBB.1.5 dose/series, given six months from their previous non-XBB.1.5 dose or previous COVID-19 infection (whichever interval is longer).

This announcement came as National Immunization Awareness Week was set to kick off on Monday. National Immunization Awareness Week (NIAW) is an annual event held in the last week of April to highlight and recognize the importance of immunization. This year, Canada’s NIAW runs from April 22 to 30, 2024, and the theme this year is “Protect your future. Get immunized!” which highlights the importance of staying up to date on recommended vaccinations so everyone can be protected against preventable diseases. 

Health Canada updates vaccine recommendations as new evidence and findings come forward and as new vaccines become available. This may make it challenging for people to know which vaccines they need and which ones they are eligible for, but reaching out to a Public Health office can clear up confusion. Many older people may think that the vaccinations they got as a child will keep them fully protected for life, and while some do, there are some that may need a booster, especially if there is an outbreak. Vaccines come in one of two distinct types live-attenuated and non-live. Since they contain living bacteria or viruses, live-attenuated vaccines can provide long-lasting even lifetime protection with only two doses.

By contrast, non-live vaccines typically require at least three doses to achieve protection that fades over time and must be restored with booster doses. Live-attenuated vaccines offer long-lasting, even lifetime protection and include the chickenpox vaccine and the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) combined vaccine, which children should receive around their first and fifth birthdays. Non-live vaccines are safer for people with weakened immune systems, but the protection fades over time and requires booster vaccinations. For example, the DTaP vaccine requires repeated doses to achieve and maintain protection from diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough): infants receive doses at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 18 months of age, and then one booster dose around the time they first enter school and another when they begin middle school. Adults should get a tetanus booster once every 10 years or during each pregnancy.

Vaccine-preventable diseases include diphtheria, Hepatitis A & B, shingles (herpes zoster), human papillomavirus (HPV), influenza, measles, meningococcal disease, mumps, pneumococcal disease, poliomyelitis (polio), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), rotavirus, rubella, tetanus, and varicella (chicken pox).

While some people may feel that vaccinations are just for children, that is not the case and immunizations are needed throughout the lifespan to help individuals live their best life possible. Infections from disease are unpredictable and can have long-term consequences and even mild or symptom-less infections can be deadly. Most people, for example, who are infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV) never show any sign of infection. However, for some, the signs will appear years later as an aggressive, life-threatening cancer.

Even before the pandemic, there were a small but constant number of people who avoided vaccinations for themselves and their children. Generally, their reasons fell into one of four categories: those who are inconvenienced by travel or scheduling issues, those who believe risks outweigh benefits and look to herd immunity for protection, those who are complacent and do not care about vaccination, and those who have incorrect or misinformation that distorts the risks and creates a sense of mistrust not only of the vaccine but those who promote it as well.

Myths about the COVID-19 vaccine continue to abound and here are some of the most notable ones with the countering facts.

· Influenza vaccines also protect against COVID-19 … Influenza vaccines protect against influenza alone and COVID-19 vaccines protect against COVID-19, both vaccines can be administered during the same appointment, but they are not the same and there is no 2-in-1 influenza/COVID vaccine.

· It is better to catch COVID-19 than to get the vaccine … COVID-19 can be profoundly serious and can lead to pneumonia, organ failure, blood clots, and hospitalization. As of November 11, 2023, in Canada, 55,275 people have died from COVID-19 since it arrived in Canada. 

· The COVID-19 vaccine can cause fertility problems … There is no evidence that the vaccine affects fertility in anyone who receives it.

· The COVID-19 vaccine can cause COVID … The vaccine does not contain a live version of the virus, meaning it is not possible for it to cause the virus.

· COVID-19 vaccines change people’s DNA … There is no evidence that the vaccine can change DNA. The mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccines introduce COVID-19 mRNA material into the cells of the recipient’s body to help teach the immune system how to recognize it (since it was not initially a human disease) however, it never enters the nucleus of the cell where the DNA is located.

· The mRNA technology used to make some of the vaccines is too new to be safe … Scientists have known about and studied mRNA since the 1960s and research into mRNA vaccine technology began in the 1990s. Research into how to create successful vaccines using mRNA was going on for nearly 30 years before the COVID-19 vaccines were created.

· The COVID-19 vaccines were developed too quickly and are not safe … Due to the unprecedented health threats the pandemic posed, scientists came together from all over the world and collaborated to create the vaccines and it was due to that collaboration that the vaccines were able to be developed and approved in record time without sacrificing safety along the way.

· COVID-19 vaccines contain microchips used to track people and can make them magnetic or able to connect to the internet … There are no microchips in the COVID-19 vaccines. Various statements made by Bill and Melinda Gates over the years were used to create fake videos and sound bites to further spread the disinformation. There is no factual basis for the claim, and they do not contain any materials that could cause anyone to become magnetic. Neither the virus nor any cells in the human body have the ability to connect to the internet.

· The COVID-19 vaccine does not work because vaccinated people are still catching it … No vaccine is 100% effective and there will always be some people who will develop a breakthrough infection. The vaccines are highly effective at protecting against hospitalization and severe disease while also making it less likely of developing long-COVID. Staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations give the best protection possible against the disease and its symptoms.

COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to be highly effective at preventing severe illness, including hospitalization and death due to COVID-19 and can decrease the risk of Long COVID (also known as post-COVID-19 condition). COVID-19 vaccination appointments are available through clinics facilitated by Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), Indigenous Services Canada, the Northern Inter-tribal Health Authority (NITHA) and at participating pharmacies throughout the province.

Eligible individuals can visit to view walk-in clinic availability in your area, to schedule an appointment with the SHA Patient Booking System and to access a list of participating pharmacies across the province. For assistance scheduling an appointment, call 1-833-727-5829 between 8:45 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday.