TMU community weighs in on the new bivalent COVID-19 booster dose

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By Manroop Aulakh

Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) students are divided on whether they will be getting the new COVID-19 vaccine that protects against two strains of omicron, after a government of Ontario announcement that young people will be eligible for the new vaccine. 

Although TMU’s vaccination and mask policies are currently on pause, the university said in an email statement to The Eyeopener that it may need to reinstate these requirements if public health indicators change.

“We encourage all community members to be fully vaccinated and remain up-to-date with current public health vaccination recommendations,” the statement read.

Adriana Arana, a fourth-year nursing student said she’s pro-vaccine and will be getting the shot.

“I’m okay with it. I’m a nursing student so I’ve looked into vaccines [that] we studied and how they work and everything,” she said. “When I weigh the pros and the cons, there are more pros to it and in my opinion, there actually aren’t any cons.” 

This booster was created by Moderna to more effectively target both strains of COVID-19 that are currently circulating. The new bivalent vaccine targets the original virus and the Omicron variant that drove the largest wave of infection and hospitalization in the pandemic, acccording to a study done by the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force. 

The new vaccine is believed to trigger a strong immune response against both strains and is expected to extend the durability of protection.

“The bivalent COVID-19 booster is a safe and effective way for people to better protect themselves against the most recently circulating COVID-19 variants in Ontario,” said Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore in a Sept. 12 press release.

Ari Castillo, a first-year biology student said she doesn’t plan on getting the vaccine anytime soon unless it’s required. Out of personal choice, Castillo would not get the vaccine but will get it if there seems to be future restrictions on those who do not.

“I’ll get it if I have to but I wouldn’t want to get it.”

Liam Robinson, a first-year English student said he would get the vaccine.

“I’ve gotten all the other ones and it just makes sense to keep going at this point. It seems to be like flu shots where you just wanna keep upping it so you update it enough and you’re protected,” he said.

Robinson said he will be getting it for his own sake and isn’t bothered if others get it or not.

“It helps you and protects you more, but it isn’t something you absolutely need to keep everyone safe.”

Second-year business management student Demetra Tsitsos echoes Robinson’s belief that it is a personal decision, but said she would get it.

“I would like them to not mandate but to just highly suggest it,” she said.

To prioritize distribution of the vaccine, appointments for those aged 18 and over will be paused until Sept. 26. Currently, clinics are providing appointments to vulnerable populations.

Christine Elliott, the deputy premier of Ontario, stated that the COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters are the best tool to keep people healthy and out of hospitals. She added that it will ensure that Ontario’s economy stays open as kids go back to school and the weather cools, keeping people indoors.

Tsitsos agreed and said allowing younger people to get the vaccine now is a good thing.

“I like it because there’s a lot of people on campus than before, last year it was only a few people. So I think people should maybe get it,” she said.

In an email to The Eye, Timothy Sly, a professor and epidemiologist at TMU, said the new vaccine is an excellent opportunity for students and it will protect well against infection.

“The original vaccines that were trialed and introduced early in 2021 were based on the original variant and were 90 to 95 per cent effective at that time,” he said. “Subsequently, we have seen those variants replaced by a series of variants and sub-variants that are further removed.”

He added that getting this vaccine is helpful as it involves layering new antigens with existing vaccine antigens. Because antigens induce immune responses in the body and there is the possibility of gaining immunity from infections, Sly said the range of immunity the new vaccine will give is very valuable. 

He also said the new bivalent vaccines are updated to match variants that are currently dominant, as well as the original strain. “Not only will the new vaccines decrease the likelihood of infection and severe illness and help reduce transmission of the virus; but they could also decrease the likelihood of developing long Covid.”

Sly said this is the type of vaccine update that we need as we prepare for the gradual transition from pandemic mode to endemic mode. 

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