Dr. Sudit Ranade, the Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, briefs reporters on the COVID-19 situation in the Yukon on July 13, 2022. (Courtesy/Yukon government)

Dr. Sudit Ranade, the Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, briefs reporters on the COVID-19 situation in the Yukon on July 13, 2022. (Courtesy/Yukon government)

New bivalent COVID-19 vaccine coming to the Yukon

Dr. Sudit Ranade says the key to vaccines is knowing what we know versus what we don’t know

The new bivalent COVID-19 vaccine will be offered in the Yukon in line with country-wide standards, according to the territory’s chief medical officer of health.

“We’ll make it available pretty much according to the [National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI)] recommendations,” Dr. Sudit Ranade said in a Sept. 2 interview.

On Sept. 1, Health Canada authorized use of the Moderna Spikevax Bivalent vaccine as a booster dose in people aged 18 and up. It targets both the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Omicron variant.

“While there are a number of potential benefits to the bivalent COVID-19 vaccine, particularly for the elderly, being able to receive timely protection is also a consideration. The original mRNA COVID-19 vaccine continues to offer good protection against severe COVID-19 illness, and should be offered if the bivalent vaccine is not readily available,” NACI chair Shelley Deeks said in a statement.

The new vaccine is approved for the primary series in people aged six months and up or as a booster dose in individuals age 18 and up.

Ranade expects the vaccine could be used by anyone who is not up to date on their vaccinations.

“There’s always a question of matching the supply that you’re getting to what the demand might be, so we’ll have to do that as best we can,” he said.

“I think what you’ll see over time is these bivalent, or multi-valent vaccines, essentially replacing the original vaccine.”

New diseases and new vaccines can pose a challenge when it comes to keeping the message straight.

The territory’s current approach to COVID-19, which encourages mass vaccination, might seem at odds with the approach to the monkeypox vaccine, which may be offered to high-risk contacts of known cases.

Ranade said knowledge behind the science is a key difference between the two viruses.

“There’s a lot of vaccines that we’ve had years and years and years of experience with, and so we know how they work. We know what the optimal schedule is. We know whether they interrupt transmission,” he said.

“I think it’s just important to remember, when things are new, there’s lots of uncertainty around it, and I think it’s important to just be clear about what we know and what we don’t.”

Ranade said the basic point is that vaccinating lots of people and giving them thorough coverage through boosters has reduced a lot of hospitalization and death due to COVID-19.

On the other hand, Ranade said there is not a lot of strong evidence that shows getting a vaccine — that was developed for prevention against smallpox — assures being protected against monkeypox.

“Does it successfully reduce or interrupt transmission? Or is it more of a harm reduction vaccine? That is to say, it may not stop you from getting infected, but it might reduce the burden of disease.”

Ranade said the ability of the vaccine to limit the spread remains uncertain at this time.

“I try not to over-promise on what these vaccines can do until we know that that’s exactly what they do,” he said.

“Over time, we’ve learned more about the COVID-19 vaccine, and over time, we’ll learn more about the monkeypox vaccine.”

Ranade said the messaging around monkeypox in the Yukon has been about what is known about the disease, what steps can be taken to prevent being exposed to it and what are the interventions.

“I think that there are a lot of people who are worried about exposure in general, even though they may not have a lot of what we consider right now to be sort of the medical risk factors for exposure,” he said.

“If somebody thinks they have monkey pox or any communicable disease, there are mechanisms in place in the healthcare system so that it can be diagnosed appropriately and treated.”

Ranade said that when the vaccine supply rolls out, then it can be offered to people who are at greater risk of exposure before they get exposed. He did not have the date as to when that could happen.

Contact Dana Hatherly at dana.hatherly@yukon-news.com