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BC respiratory season: medical masking required & health-care workers must be vaccinated

New mRNA COVID vaccines available starting October 10.

face mask, hospital, er
Face masks being worn in hospital ER. [2020 - web]

Thursday September 28, 2023 | VICTORIA, BC [Updated September 30, 2023]

by Mary P Brooke, B.Sc. | Island Social Trends

Starting Tuesday October 3, masks will be mandatory in all health authority hospitals, private hospitals, long-term care, seniors assisted living, and provincial mental health facilities for workers, visitors, contractors, and volunteers.

This was included in a fall respiratory season media briefing by Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry today from Vancouver. She was joined by Health Minister Adrian Dix.

dr bonnie henry, sept 2023
Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry during fall respiratory media session in Vancouver on Sept 28, 2023. [livestream]

The use of masks and vaccines still seems to stir political debate, as does the requirement by the BC government for all health-care workers to be vaccinated as a condition of employment.

In particular, the BC Conservatives today said the requirement for health-care workers to be vaccinated is “absurd”. As posted on X (Twitter): “This is absurd. Our healthcare system is on the brink and the BC NDP continues to mandate vaccination in healthcare workers. We have thousands of fully qualified workers ready to serve but we don’t have a provincial government willing to bring them back.”

medical masking, hospital, dr henry
Masks will be required in all health-care setting during the fall/winter respiratory season, starting Oct 3, 2023.

Three main viruses:

There are three main types of respiratory viruses in circulation: COVID (SARS-CoV-2), influenza and RSV. Together they will be the cause of infection for many people in BC through fall 2023 and into early winter 2024. | See: BC CDC Respiratory Diseases webpage

adrian dix, health minister
BC Health Minister Adrian Dix during fall respiratory media session in Vancouver on Sept 28, 2023. [livestream]

Respiratory season is generally considered to last into March each year, though COVID seems to be less seasonally driven.

People spend more time indoors in fall and winter, where the opportunity for viral transmission is heightened.

COVID vaccines:

The latest mRNA vaccines for the latest strain(s) of COVID will be available in BC starting October 10, said Dr Henry today. People who are already in the vaccine advisory system will start receiving invitations (by email or text, etc) soon. Vaccines will once again be provided by Pfizer-BioNTech (vaccine called Comirnaty) and Moderna (vaccine called Spikevax).

comirnaty, covid, vaccine, mRNA, pfizer-biontech
In Fall 2023, the Pfizer-BioTech vaccine for COVID is called Comirnaty, targeting the XBB.1.5 Omicron strain.

The shot is recommended for everyone who wants to minimize the impacts of a COVID infection. Not everyone has hybrid immunization now (from previous vaccination and previous infection), and immunization does wane — but not to zero, Dr Henry said today.

The new COVID vaccines for fall/winter 2023-2024 are targeting the XBB.1.5 Omicron strain (which emerged back in January 2023). The vaccines are thought to still be helpful in dealing with evolving strains such as B.2.86 (also known as the Pirola variant, with more than 30 variations on its spike protein) which is becoming more prevalent in BC.

spikevax, covid, vaccine, moderna, mRNA
In Fall 2023, the Moderna vaccine for COVID is called Spikevax, targeting the XBB.1.5 Omicron strain.

Dr Henry recommends that everyone get vaccinated for COVID and influenza this fall. Minister Dix suggested getting them done at the same time.

Dr Henry pointed out that seniors who have been fully vaccinated against COVID all the way along through the pandemic may not have any natural immunity (as they will have likely avoided infection), and that all immunity wanes over time.

Extend masks to schools, do better air management:

BC Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said today that “reintroducing masks in response to rising cases, hospitalizations and deaths exemplifies a reactive, not proactive, approach to health-care in BC”.

hepa filter, classroom
Hepa filter in a classroom. [web]

Further Furstenau fees that masks should also be used in schools and public buildings to mitigate risk as well using “superior filtration and ventilation systems”.

BC Green Deputy Leader Dr Sanjiv Gandhi says the government’s mask announcement is “woefully late and inadequate” as “the viral season is already upon us”.