Do Canadian workers need a third COVID shot?

Medical expert says companies should be preparing staff for booster shots, with immunocompromised and essential workers first in line

Do Canadian workers need a third COVID shot?

As Canadian employers figure out the nitty gritty of vaccine mandates, talk of a third booster shot may soon complicate the conversation.

Though it's still early days, a number of provinces are moving ahead with COVID booster jabs - and it seems that Canadians are keen to get a third shot. According to a survey commissioned by CTV News, 69 per cent of respondents said that they were interested in a booster shot.

“In Ontario, the provincial government has already expanded the list of individuals who would qualify for third doses,” Dr. Adam Kassam, president of the Ontario Medical Association, told COS.

Those currently in line for third doses are primarily immunocompromised individuals or those in long-term care – meaning that employers should be starting to make provisions for affected workers. And with the numbers showing that Canadians are interested in additional protection, it may not be long before booster shots are rolled out to the general population.

“I think the general understanding, or the general belief, is that booster shots are likely to be given at some point,” says Dr. Kassam.

Mixed vaccines

Booster shots are available for mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer or Moderna. As such, the third jabs are currently being administered to those who have already received two doses of an mRNA vaccine. Complications may arise in future with regards to those who have received mixed shots:

“That is a conversation to be had,” says Dr. Kassam, pointing out that there has yet to be any specific guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI).

Indeed, Canada currently authorizes mixing mRNA vaccines with the AstraZeneca vaccine. However, many countries around the world do not recognize those with mixed vaccine doses as being fully vaccinated. The U.S. only just announced that it would allow international travellers who have mixed vaccines on Nov. 8.

While this is good news for Canadian workers having to travel to the U.S., travel to other locations may still be a question mark as governments decide to mandate booster shots for travel in future. Talk of a booster jab may potentially impact business travel in the near future.

Healthcare workers

“[It’s] somewhat hard to predict right now given where vaccine equity discussions are happening around the world. But I imagine a scenario in the not-too-distant future where you have some heterogeneity of vaccine approaches,” says Dr. Kassam.

This will initially concern immunocompromised individuals as previous mentioned, “but then we also start to migrate into other areas like health care workers or workers in front-facing [roles] in the same way that we had that happen for the first two doses,” he says.

And with health care workers and other essential workers seemingly next in line for a booster jab, employers will need to figure what their approach will be and how this will affect current workplace vaccine mandates.

In due course, when booster jabs become more widely available for other Canadian workers, employers will have to face the same questions they did with the first two doses and what company policy will be.

Thinking of the future, Dr. Kassam says, “I think it’s a very reasonable or very realistic possibility that we’re going to be having an annual shot of this nature […] so I do think that there will be a permutation in the future where you’ll have a yearly or annual vaccine that will be required [at work].”