Sometimes it pays to be the squeaky wheel, apparently.
In an unusually swift move, the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health has recommended second COVID-19 boosters to Yukoners aged 50 and over – beginning today.
The move follows complaints to the media from a Whitehorse woman who attempted to get her booster shot on Thursday – only to be turned away because she isn’t yet 70 years old.
Heather MacFadgen, 68, told the Star Thursday, “I and my husband have been faithfully waiting for our fourth booster for the required six months, and that time is up.
“We know that as seniors, we are vulnerable to COVID because people’s immune systems weaken as they age.
“We also know that the vaccine is the best way to avoid COVID and also to lessen the seriousness of the disease if you do get it,” MacFadgen added.
“So far, we have avoided COVID by taking the recommended precautions. We also know that after about four months, the protection of the third booster is weakening.”
She said, “We have been trying to book an appointment at the public health vaccine clinic since our six months was up. (Wednesday), we got appointments for (Thursday) using the online booking system – which requires you to enter your age. We got a confirmation email saying we were booked.”
MacFadgen said she couldn’t understand how she could reserve an appointment online if she wasn’t in the proper age range.
“I had to give the computer my birthdate and still got the spot,” she noted. “When I told the nurse at the clinic this, she said the computer program is not very smart.
“(Thursday) morning, we went for our shot – showed our health care card while the reception person checked for our appointment.
“She found it and sent us to the waiting area – which was empty. We waited for about 15 minutes and then were directed to the nurse, who again looked at the computer and then said, ‘I can’t give you the shot because you are under 70.’
“I explained that I was travelling (Friday) to see new grand-babies who of course, as infants, cannot be vaccinated, and I wanted the shot because that would help protect them.
“Even though she had the vaccine ready and there was no one else waiting, I could not get it,” said the longtime local resident.
MacFadgen said she was so frustrated, she called the office of Tracy-Anne McPhee, a neighbour in Riverdale and the minister of Health.
“She was not in yet, so I spoke to her assistant, Michelle, and explained the problem “ MacFadgen said.
“She said people 50 and up are now eligible to get the shot. I told her the clinic did not know that.”
MacFadgen said she went back to the clinic and attempted to explain what McPhee’s office had to say.
“But they would not give me the shot. I pointed out that the sign on the door said if you have waited six months from your third booster, you are eligible.
“She said that’s not the case – even though the sign says so. Now I am really frustrated – again, there was no one there waiting to get a shot, MacFadgen said.
“So we have all these expensive resources – nurses, assistants, supervisors, cleaners, etc. – there at the clinic, with virtually no uptake.”
A senior couple arrived while MacFadgen was speaking to the supervisor.
“Maybe they too were eventually turned away by the time they got to the nurse,” she said.
“My friends who are over 70 and got their shot over a week ago said there was no one there besides themselves when they went in.
“I know lots of people 50 and up who would take their shot right now. Surely we can do better,” MacFadgen noted.
“Most of the Yukoners who have died from COVID, I am pretty sure, were seniors. YG needs to make it easier, not harder to get the shot.”
The Star attempted to contact the Department of Health about the situation on Thursday afternoon. There was no response.
Instead, the government issued a news release at about 6 p.m. announcing the change in policy effective this morning.
“This builds on the previous recommendations announced Apr. 7 for second boosters for people who are aged 70 and over, seniors living in long-term care or other senior congregate living settings and immunocompromised Yukoners,” the statement reads.
“Throughout the pandemic, data has (sic) shown that the main risk factor for severe outcomes from COVID-19 is age.
“First boosters were also rolled out in the same way and eligibility expanded based on age.”
To be eligible for a second booster dose, six months must have passed since the first booster.
As well, for people who have recently had COVID-19, a second booster is not recommended until at least three months have passed since symptoms began, or receiving a positive test.
“We know that vaccination is our best protection against COVID-19 and boosters help ensure that our immune responses to COVID-19 remain high,” McPhee said in the statement.
“By offering second boosters to people aged 50 and over, we are ensuring Yukoners have the strongest protection available against the virus.”
Dr. Jesse Kancir spoke in the continuing absence of Dr. Catherine Elliott, the acting chief medical officer of health.
“Expanding the eligibility for the second COVID-19 boosters will help Yukoners ensure they maintain a high level of protection,” Kancir said.
“Vaccination is the best protection against COVID-19 and severe outcomes such as hospitalization and even death. We will continue to assess the COVID-19 risk in the territory and update recommendations as necessary.
“I encourage all Yukoners to stay up-to-date on all recommended doses.”
MacFadgen told the Star this morning she had received her shot first thing.
“Yes, I just got my shot. It was a dead zone here yesterday when I came and today is busy with a good mix of over and under 70 years, I would say.
“A good thing!” MacFadgen added.
“I am getting on a plane to see grand babies this aft and I know the booster immunity is not immediate, but every day from now is safer.”
Meanwhile, the latest COVID-19 case numbers from Thursday continue to show some encouraging signs of decline.
Active cases were at 45 yesterday, with no new confirmed cases.
The testing positivity rate has crept up a little to 31.2 per cent. It had dropped below 30 per cent on Wednesday.
Some restrictions remain at the Whitehorse General Hospital due to staff shortages.