COVID-19 boosters to open to Ontarians 50+ as of Dec. 13, province reports 959 new cases

Ontario reported 959 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, while the province announced the expanded eligibility for vaccine booster shots to those aged 50 and older.

Appointments to be booked about six months after a person's 2nd dose

Ontarians aged 50 and older will become eligible for a vaccine booster shot in mid-December. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario reported 959 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, while the province announced the expanded eligibility for vaccine booster shots to those aged 50 and older.

In a news release issued Thursday afternoon, the province said that starting on Dec. 13 at 8 a.m. ET, people aged 50 and older will be able to schedule their booster through the COVID-19 vaccination portal, by calling the provincial vaccine contact centre, through Indigenous-led vaccination clinics, and in select pharmacies and primary care settings.

Appointments will be booked for about six months after a person's second dose, officials said.

As well, people receiving dialysis are now eligible to receive a third vaccine dose if it has been 56 days since their second dose. The province is also recommending re-vaccination post-transplantation for people who receive hematopoietic stem cell transplants, hematopoietic cell transplants, and recipients of CAR-T-cell therapy, due to the loss of immunity following therapy or transplant.

Starting in January, the province says it will further expand eligibility for booster shots based on age and risk, with an interval of six to eight months from a second dose.

"If you are eligible for a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, please book your appointment as soon as you can to provide yourself with an extra layer of protection," said Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore, in a statement.

"If you have not yet received the vaccine, please do so today. This includes vaccinations for children aged five to 11. Achieving the highest vaccination rates possible remains our best tool to protect us, reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, and fight the significant surge of new cases and the new omicron variant."

Those presently eligible for a booster in Ontario are people aged 70 and older, health-care workers or essential caregivers in congregate settings, people who received two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine or one dose of Janssen, and First Nations, Inuit and Métis adults and their non-Indigenous household members.

When asked at a Thursday afternoon press conference why boosters are being capped at people 50 and older right now, Moore said the province has "specific capacity" to provide immunizations in Ontario, but if officials don't see that capacity being used, "we will then potentially open it up sooner to other age groups."

More cases of omicron variant discovered in Ontario

Earlier this week, Moore said the province was reviewing its strategy for third vaccine doses in light of the potentially dangerous new omicron variant of COVID-19.

Ontario confirmed its first cases of the variant over the weekend. Cases have also been confirmed in British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec.

Moore said Thursday that the province has so far found five cases of the variant, and "additional cases will be likely identified in the near future."

Durham Region Health Department announced Thursday it has its first case of a person who has tested positive for the omicron variant.

In a news release, the agency said the person is a close contact of a returning traveller from southern Africa. The health agency also said it is monitoring other COVID-19 cases under investigation for the omicron variant based on travel history and is working with the province to monitor COVID-19 variants of concern.

One case of the Omicron variant was also identified in Halton Region Thursday, according to Dr. Hamidah Meghani.

Meghani said Halton had identified one confirmed case of the variant along with two "probable" cases. All three are linked with one of the probable cases — a patient who recently travelled to Nigeria — and all individuals are currently isolating, the release noted.

WATCH | Eligibility varies across country for COVID-19 booster shots: 

Eligibility for COVID-19 booster shots varies across Canada

1 year ago
Duration 2:03
Ontario will lower the eligibility age for COVID-19 booster shots to 50 and up by mid-December, adding to a shifting map of booster shot eligibility in Canada. There are calls for provinces and territories to be more cohesive with each other on who gets a booster shot.

Similarly, Toronto Public Health has declared a COVID-19 outbreak at the Toronto East Detention Centre linked to the Omicron variant after a staff member tested positive.

As of Thursday afternoon, TPH confirmed an additional four inmates have tested positive for COVID-19. The health unit said there's no word yet on what strain of the novel coronavirus the inmates have contracted..

Officials say the outbreak was declared "out of an abundance of caution as the individual who has tested positive is currently under investigation by Durham Region Health Department with a suspected case of the COVID-19 Omicron variant."

Meanwhile, today's case count marks a 28 per cent jump from the same time last week. The seven-day average of daily cases climbed to 851, its highest point since June 5 — when the province's third wave was slowly tapering downward.

According to the latest estimate from Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, cases are currently on track to double every three and a half weeks.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Moore said that in the last few weeks, Ontario has seen case counts increase, with flare-ups in some parts of the province. However, he said, hospital and ICU rates remain stable.

Also this morning, the Ministry of Health said it is in the process of updating how it reports vaccination data for the province. Until recently, the official statistics were calculated using population numbers from the 2011 census. A spokesperson said the ministry will now use figures from the 2020 census instead. 

Based on the revised figures, the ministry said that as of 8 p.m. Wednesday evening, about 87.2 per cent of Ontarians aged 12 and older had had two doses of vaccine. The spokesperson did not indicate when figures for children aged five to 11 will begin to be included in daily updates.

Here are some other key pandemic indicators and figures from the Ministry of Health's daily provincial report:

Patients in ICU with COVID-related illnesses: 155, with 85 relying on a ventilator to breathe.

Tests completed in the previous 24 hours: 38,480, with a 2.9 per cent provincewide positivity rate.

Active cases: 6,932.

Deaths: Seven, pushing the official toll to 10,012.

Loan guarantees for non-profit long-term care development

Ontario also announced Thursday it is offering loan guarantees to help not-for-profit long-term care homes acquire development loans.

In a statement, the government said it's setting aside $388 million in lending from Infrastructure Ontario, the Crown agency that manages infrastructure loans, for the program. It said approved borrowing costs for not-for-profit homes will also be reduced.

Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips said the program is part of a plan to speed up long-term care development in the province.

Ontario Long-Term Care Association CEO Donna Duncan says the loan commitment will help non-profit members overcome challenges in accessing funding and will help deliver more safe and modern homes in the province.

With files from The Canadian Press