The new bivalent COVID-19 vaccine booster is now available in northwestern Ontario for anyone over the age of 12.

Health Canada approved the use of Pfizer’s bivalent COVID-19 vaccine booster in September, initially. Then, in early October, Pfizer released an updated version of the vaccine, targeting the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, which has been authorized for use in individuals 12 and older.

Previous COVID-19 vaccines were monovalent – meaning they targeted the original strain of COVID-19 from 2020.

The bivalent vaccine is essentially a mix of the original vaccine and an updated vaccine, which targets specific mutations in the spike protein seen in the multiple strains of the Omicron variant.

The Ontario government made doses available on October 17, for those who have at least two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and have waited at least three months since their last dose.

The Northwestern Health Unit is urging residents to stay up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations to help protect their loved ones this fall.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is still the best protection we have against the virus – I highly recommend that everyone stays up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations,” says Dr. Kit Young Hoon, Medical Officer of Health at NWHU.

“Anyone aged 65+, and those aged 18+ who are pregnant, immunocompromised, or identify as Indigenous should get their booster dose three months after their last dose or COVID-19 infection,” Dr. Young Hoon says.

The NWHU adds that those aged 5 and up who do not fit into the above categories should book their booster dose for six months after their last dose. As well, although the bivalent vaccine is only available for those 12 and older, children 5 to 11 can get a booster dose of the original vaccine.

“There is increased COVID-19 activity in other regions of the province, and everyone can reduce the impact of another wave here by getting vaccinated,” adds Dr. Young Hoon.

Appointments can be made through Ontario’s COVID-19 Vaccination Portal, by calling the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre at 1-833-943-3900, or through the Northwestern Health Unit.

Long-term care home and retirement home residents will receive their booster dose through staff at the home they live in.

Ontario and the NWHU are also reminding people to get their flu shots this year, which will be available November 1 at pharmacies, health care providers and NWHU clinics.

They may be given at the same time, or any time before or after, a COVID-19 vaccine dose – except for youth between six months and five years old. It’s recommended they wait two weeks before or after the administration of the flu vaccine, before getting their COVID-19 vaccine.