MS Society of Canada Urges Consistent Access to COVID-19 Boosters

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by Patricia Inacio, PhD |

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The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada is urging that all provinces and territories in Canada offer COVID-19 booster vaccines to at-risk populations, including people who are moderately to severely immunocompromised and multiple sclerosis (MS) patients.

In letters sent earlier this month, in collaboration with 11 other health charities, the MS Society asked that rules for access to a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine should be made clear and implemented across all jurisdictions.

According to a press release, “All Canadians who are immunocompromised have the right to clearly understand whether they are eligible for a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to achieve an adequate level of protection.”

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The appeal, which is supported by the Canadian Network of MS Clinics, follows the latest recommendations by the country’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) stating that booster doses may be offered to people 70 and older, people living in care homes, frontline healthcare workers, and people with health conditions that put them at higher risk, such as MS.

Also, it comes in response to reported differences across provinces and territories in Canada regarding access to a third dose of a vaccine. According to the Society, this leads to “confusion and increased risk for vulnerable Canadians.”

Booster shots are meant to sustain the protection against COVID-19 provided by the initial vaccine dose(s), which slightly weakens over time, particularly in older people. This extra protection likely will be important for the winter months, when the risk of infections and hospitalizations are likely to increase, the Society noted.

The NACI recommends a booster with either Pfizer-BioNTech or the Moderna mRNA vaccines.

Immunomodulatory and immunosuppressive disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) — the mainstay of MS treatment — generally work by suppressing the immune system to dampen the abnormal immune responses that drive nerve cell damage in MS. This may limit the immune system’s ability to fight viruses like SARS-CoV-2, the one causing COVID-19, which then increases the chances of severe disease.

In a previous letter, sent in August to the NACI and all provinces and territories, the Society requested additional COVID-19 booster shots for people treated with DMTs that may weaken their immune system.

NACI updated its recommendations to include immunocompromised people as eligible to receive a third booster shot in September. This is in agreement with guidelines issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to include people on DMTs to receive booster vaccines for COVID-19.

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