NL woman flying to Quebec for 2nd COVID refresher wants answers on eligibility at home

Kati Szego needs a second COVID-19 booster dose to travel for work but is unable to get a dose in Newfoundland and Labrador because she does not meet admission guidelines. (Rich Blenkinsopp/Memorial University)

A woman in St. John’s who wants a second COVID-19 booster vaccine has decided to travel out of the province to get it – and is asking officials for clarity on when more people in Newfoundland and Labrador will get their fourth dose be able.

Kati Szego, 62, received her first COVID booster in January. Traveling for work, she is due to fly to Portugal in July but is reluctant to make the trip without the added reassurance of a second booster shot.

However, Szego cannot receive this dose because it does not meet Newfoundland and Labrador’s approval guidelines.

Booster doses are currently only available to people living in communal shelters in the province, anyone identifying as Indigenous and those over the age of 70.

“I was told about a month ago to just wait a few weeks because the eligibility criteria will certainly expand,” Szego told CBC News on Tuesday.

“I liked doing that, but now the window has narrowed for me to get a refresher and let those two weeks go by so I’m reasonably protected when I get on the plane.”

Faced with the uncertainty of securing a second dose in Newfoundland before her travel deadline — and being turned away from vaccination clinics with a doctor’s note in hand — Szego has decided she’ll likely fly to Quebec for a refresher, which is where everyone’s about the age of 18 can receive a fourth dose.

“That seems silly to me … There’s the unnecessary risk of travel itself, which is an issue, and then of course there’s the cost that comes with it,” she said.

“It’s a very difficult decision. But it’s triggered by the sense of vulnerability I feel… It’s not a choice I’m happy to make, and I feel very bad for other people who feel just as, if not more, vulnerable. “

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Szego says she’d like to see clearer communication about when permissions policies will be expanded.

In an interview with CBC News on Tuesday, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, Chief Medical Officer of Health for Newfoundland and Labrador, said these discussions are happening daily. However, the province wants to ensure those at highest risk of COVID-19 can get a fourth vaccine.

“We’re expecting some climbs in the fall and want to prepare for that,” Fitzgerald said. “So right now, we’re certainly following the evidence that says people who are in the groups … who aren’t listed are at higher risk for more serious consequences and should get this second refresher.”

dr Janice Fitzgerald, chief medical officer of health, said the province is in talks about eligibility criteria for a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

dr Brenda Wilson, a public health physician and public health researcher at Memorial University, says booster doses will be important to protect people during an anticipated surge in falls, particularly when immunity to an initial booster dose wanes.

“As we go into a new wave, this is the right time to make sure we’re actually protected as much as we can,” Wilson said.

HEAR | dr Brenda Wilson speaks to CBC’s Jamie Fitzpatrick:

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Covid-19 tends to be under the radar these days. But as our vaccine immunity ebbs and new subvariants circulate, one public health doctor says there is reason for caution.

But she said it’s far from the only measure people can take to protect themselves. As new COVID-19 subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, emerge in Europe, vaccination is unlikely to be the sole protection against future infection.

“People get infections repeatedly, so one infection isn’t enough to guarantee you immunity for a relatively short period of time,” she said. “If we want to reduce transmission, and reducing transmission is how we help prevent new variants from emerging… [Masks] have a measurable impact on transmission.”

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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