Ontario plans to eventually offer booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines to all residents, officials said Wednesday, with the next priority groups able to start booking appointments starting this week.
Those select groups, representing about 2.75 million people, can begin booking appointments at 8 a.m. ET on Saturday Nov. 6, officials said.
The groups immediately eligible include:
- Ontarians aged 70 and older, who are at higher risk of waning immunity at about six months after their second dose and are also more susceptible to severe illness from COVID-19.
- Health-care workers and designated essential caregivers in congregate settings.
- Ontarians who received two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, or those who received one shot of the Janssen vaccine elsewhere.
- First Nations, Inuit and Métis people and non-Indigenous members of their households.
Officials said at a morning media briefing that the province chose the above groups based on recommendations released by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) last week.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said COVID-19 will most likely become an “annual winter virus.”
Moore said approximately a quarter of Ontarians still aren’t fully vaccinated against COVID-19, noting that figure includes children under 11 who aren’t currently eligible for the shot.
‘Never underestimate this virus’
“There is no escaping this virus,” he said, noting that those currently not vaccinated will likely get COVID-19 eventually if not immunized.
Moore also called on health-care workers who haven’t been immunized to get the vaccine, saying he believes it is their “professional duty.”
Boosters for the general population weren’t part of NACI’s recommendations, Moore acknowledged at Wednesday’s news conference, however he said Ontario “wanted to signal that third doses will be part of a provincial strategy.”
He warned people to “never underestimate this virus,” and said additional vaccine doses aren’t out of the question if the virus continues to change.
For now, he said the current strategy is effective against the extremely contagious delta variant of the coronavirus, but said that “this virus wants to mutate.”
Where to get your booster dose
Eligible Ontarians will be able to book appointments through the province’s vaccine portal, or through public health units that are still using their own internal systems. Select pharmacies will also participate in the booster campaign.
Some primary care providers are also expected to offer booster shots, but officials said that those eligible will not be able to book an appointment directly through their family doctor.
Health-care workers who work in hospital settings should go through their respective hospital networks to get an appointment, officials said.
The province said it does not expect to see the booster-shot campaign hamstrung by vaccine supply constraints.
Going beyond NACI’s most recent recommendations, officials said Ontario is also planning to begin expanding eligibility for boosters to all those aged 12 and older at some point in “early 2022.” Those expansions will be based on age and relative risk and the specific timing will differ among public health units.
The province is still waiting for clinical guidance on the specific interval between second and third shots for those who fall into this group, but it will likely fall into the six to eight-month range, officials said.
Boosters won’t be mandatory
Booster doses will be encouraged but won’t be mandatory, and Ontarians who have two shots of COVID-19 vaccine and choose not to get a booster will still be considered fully immunized. According to health officials, two doses continue to provide powerful and prolonged protection against COVID-19.
While more data is needed, preliminary research points to a roughly 10 per cent drop in mRNA vaccine effectiveness after about six months in most adults, officials said. Average effectiveness after a second dose is about 85 per cent, they said.
Ontario is already offering third shots to about 250,000 people in some high-risk groups, including long-term care residents, transplant recipients, some cancer patients and people receiving specific medications that can lead to immunosuppression.
Roughly 65 per cent of those currently eligible, or about 161,000 people, have already got their third shot, according to provincial officials.