Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix fielded dozens of questions about B.C.’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic on Monday night.

Hundreds of Global BC viewers submitted questions for the first COVID-19 town hall of 2022 on topics including vaccines, rapid tests, public health restrictions and the new Omicron variant of concern.

Here are some of the highlights.

Upcoming vaccine mandates in British Columbia

While a vaccine mandate is already in effect in several B.C. workplaces, Henry said another one is in the works for some health-care workers outside of hospitals, such as dentists, physiotherapists and massage therapists.

“It’s one of those things where we’re still working with the colleges about how to make sure we understand the vaccination status of registrants,” she said. “That’s in the works and it will be coming soon.”

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Henry said the process has been “more complicated” than expected, but did not provide details.

Right now, she said there is no plan to require vaccine cards and double-vaccination to access spas and esthetic services in B.C., because COVID-19 safety plans are in place in those spaces.

Click to play video: 'Additional vaccine mandates could be coming to B.C. health sector, says Dr. Bonnie Henry'

Additional vaccine mandates could be coming to B.C. health sector, says Dr. Bonnie Henry

Additional vaccine mandates could be coming to B.C. health sector, says Dr. Bonnie Henry

Which booster dose should you choose?

As the province rolls out its accelerated COVID-19 booster program, some British Columbians have asked which vaccine they should pick if a choice is offered.

Henry said Monday both Pfizer-BioNTech’s Comirnaty and Moderna’s Spikevax are “really great,” but there’s some evidence that Spikevax has an edge when it comes to longer-lasting response.

“You don’t need to have Pfizer if you’ve had Pfizer. You don’t need to have Moderna if you’ve had Moderna,” she explained. “Take whichever you’ve got, and if you have the option of getting Moderna then go for it.”

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Read more:

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What’s important, Henry added, is that all eligible British Columbians get their booster dose. Double-vaccinated residents who have already been infected by COVID-19 may benefit even more from a booster than those who haven’t, she said.

“What we’re seeing is that people who have had a vaccine and infection, and then get their booster dose, are basically super-immune,” she said.

“It really gives you a really strong antibody response, but also stimulates those memory cells again, your cell-mediated immunity.”

Click to play video: 'B.C.’s booster shot program continues to lag behind other provinces'

B.C.’s booster shot program continues to lag behind other provinces

B.C.’s booster shot program continues to lag behind other provinces – Jan 3, 2022

Self-isolation guidance for school-aged children

Some parents have expressed concern about the safety of schools given that many children have not yet been vaccinated or have only received one dose.

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Vaccine effectiveness is between 50 and 60 per cent for adults, and it’s similar for children, Henry said. To date, she added, schools have proven to be a “lower risk” environment for transmission of COVID-19, and safety measures are in place to provide additional protection, including masking and staggered start times.

Parents can help keep young children safe by getting vaccinated themselves, said Henry, and keeping symptomatic children home until they’re better.

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“For everybody who’s vaccinated, we’re really looking at that five-day period (of isolation), but for children, it can be really mild,” she said. “If it’s mild and it goes away in one or two days, then they’re fine to go back to school.”

For parents wondering when a vaccine for children under the age of five will be available, Henry said both Pfizer and Moderna have launched studies and encountered challenges, so it may take some time.

“The initial two-dose vaccine that Pfizer was working on showed that it didn’t have as strong protection as what we’re seeing in the five-to-11 (age group), and the older children and adults,” she explained. “So they’ve gone back to the drawing board a little bit.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. kids return to school from extended Christmas break'

B.C. kids return to school from extended Christmas break

B.C. kids return to school from extended Christmas break

Adverse effects of the COVID-19 vaccine in B.C.

Others asked whether there have been any deaths or adverse effects related to the COVID-19 vaccine in B.C.

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To date, Henry said no deaths have been linked to the vaccine in B.C. A very small number of residents — “single digits” — have died within a month of receiving a shot, but investigations confirmed their deaths were not related to the dose.

“We have had serious adverse events following immunization, and we call it that specifically because there are things that happen after people are immunized that may or may not be related to the vaccine,” she explained.

Read more:

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Four British Columbians have had VITT (vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia), she added, and a small number have had myocarditis or pericarditis after receiving a dose.

“We’ve had in the vicinity of 400 serious adverse events in almost 10 million vaccine doses given in the province,” she said.

Every single dose of vaccine given in B.C. is recorded in a provincial registry, Henry added, which means adverse effects can be monitored and traced quickly and efficiently.

Click to play video: 'Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses adverse effects from COVID-19 vaccine in B.C.'

Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses adverse effects from COVID-19 vaccine in B.C.

Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses adverse effects from COVID-19 vaccine in B.C.

Omicron has ‘changed the game’

It’s been nearly two years since the COVID-19 pandemic was first declared, but Henry said Monday the Omicron variant has drastically “changed the game.”

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“This wave is a lot sharper and steeper, but also moving more quickly,” she said during the town hall.

The province will continue to focus on hospitalization rates and the rolling seven-day average rather than daily case counts, she added, as testing and contact-tracing is outpaced by the spread of the virus.

The province is expecting an influx of rapid tests in the weeks to come, but given Omicron’s rapid transmission, it plans to deploy those tests strategically in the communities and sectors that need them most.

British Columbia will also keep its interval for boosters at six months from the second dose, Henry said, to give the immune system enough time for a “mature response.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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