Ontario speeding up 2nd dose eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines

Premier Doug Ford is scheduled to hold a news conference at 10:30 a.m. ET. Ford's office says he will be joined by the Minister of Health Christine Elliott and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones.

Most Ontarians could be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by end of summer, officials say

Increasing supply of vaccines and progress in administering first doses means the Ontario is able to accelerate the timing between first and second shots, provincial officials said at a briefing Friday morning. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Ontario is speeding up eligibility for second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and officials now expect the majority of those who want a vaccine will be fully immunized by the end of summer.

Increasing supply of vaccines and progress in administering first doses means the province is able to accelerate the timing between first and second shots, officials said at a briefing Friday morning.

At a news conference this morning, Ford said that as of Friday, Ontario is ahead of the schedule it had set for vaccination.

"We're all getting one step closer to returning to normal," Ford said.

Those aged 80 and older will be the first group able to book an accelerated appointment for a second shot starting the week of May 31. It will then expand to those 70 and above in mid-June.

After that point, the province will shift to a "first-in, first-out" strategy, in which Ontarians will be able to book an appointment for their second dose depending on when they had a first.

You can see the slide deck presented by officials Friday at the bottom of this story.

Depending on local supply and the availability of appointments, some could get a second dose significantly sooner than the 16-week interval introduced earlier this year to get more first doses into arms. Getting a second shot earlier is entirely optional, officials said, as those who want to keep an appointment that is already scheduled can do so.

Up to the public to book accelerated 2nd doses

Administration of second doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will remain at 12 weeks, though it will also run under the "first-in, first-out" approach.

If you currently have an appointment for a second shot but are able to secure an earlier one through the province's online booking portal, the system will automatically cancel your previous date, officials said.

WATCH | Ford on Ontario's new vaccination timelines:

Ontario moves up 2nd doses amid steady vaccine supply

2 years ago
Duration 1:07
Ontario's COVID-19 vaccine rollout is picking up pace, with second doses being offered as early as next Monday to residents over 80.

As for a second shot, officials expect most Ontarians will get it at the same place where they received a first, though that could depend on local circumstances. The onus for booking a subsequent appointment will fall to those who want one, officials said.

Similarly, the province expects that most adolescents aged 12-17 will get a first shot in June and a second in August, in an effort to ensure as many teens as possible are fully vaccinated before the next school year.

According to officials, more than 65 per cent of adults in Ontario have now received at least one dose, and the province is currently averaging about 134,800 shots per day.

The provincial government had set a threshold of 60 per cent of adults with a first shot before moving into Phase 1 of its new reopening plan, and a benchmark of 20 per cent of adults fully vaccinated before entering Phase 2.

Ontario expects about 4.7 million more doses of vaccines to arrive throughout June, most of which will be Pfizer-BioNTech, which has confirmed its delivery schedule to Canada through the end of July.

Officials are still waiting for confirmation from the federal government on how many Moderna doses may arrive through next month.

AstraZeneca uncertainty

Ontario received a shipment of 254,500 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine last week, on top of the 55,000 or so doses that remained after the province pushed pause on administering further first doses of the vaccine. 

This week, those who got a first shot of AstraZeneca during a pilot project that ran from March 10 to March 19 were given the option of getting a second shot at a shortened 10-week interval, in part because about 45,000 doses are set to expire on May 31.

But actually getting those doses to the pharmacies and primary care providers who gave out the initial shots has proven problematic, with many eligible Ontarians reporting problems securing a follow-up appointment. 

That's because the 55,000 older doses are undergoing a quality assurance process, as the province has incomplete storage data and wants to ensure the doses are safe.

Officials said that about three per cent of the 38,500 doses that have undergone quality control were spoiled.

Despite logistical constraints, about 10,000 people who received an initial shot of AstraZeneca got a second this week, officials added.

Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said Friday that the bulk of these doses were heading to Kingston, Windsor-Essex and Toronto, which were prioritized in an initial pilot project.

"As soon as we get the approval that they continue to be the highest quality, we'll make sure that pharmacies [in those regions] are getting it," she said.

Asked how many doses might expire before they can be used, Jones said "it's not a clear cut answer," pointing to the province's quality checks.

"As lots are approved … then they get distributed," she said.

Ontario is still awaiting guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization about whether it is safe to mix AstraZeneca with a shot of mRNA vaccines from Pfizer or Moderna, though it is likely to be approved, officials said.

Pharmacists scramble to prepare for busy weekend

Meanwhile, Ontario pharmacies are bracing for a busy weekend as they prepare to administer thousands of doses before they expire. 

The head of the Ontario Pharmacy Association said participating drug stores would work hard over the weekend to avoid wastage, with three full days left to complete the vaccinations.

"Everyone's trying to make this work and they will do what they can to accommodate people," Justin Bates said in an interview.

Of the 325 pharmacies that participated in the pilot, 162 are administering shots this time around, leaving some AstraZeneca recipients hunting down waiting lists at other sites for their second shots.

The delivery delay has put extra pressure on the pharmacists to work through the doses before the clock runs out, and to manage patient and staff scheduling ahead of the vaccination.

"It's put a lot of burden on pharmacists and certainly they're in a precarious position, because they want to help out but they don't want to be blamed for any wastage," Bates said.

It could mean a busy few days ahead at pharmacies, where people can make appointments by calling ahead, joining a wait list online or walking in to one of the pharmacies listed on the provincial website.

Key indicators continue downward trends

Meanwhile, Ontario reported another 1,273 cases of COVID-19 and the deaths of 14 more people with the illness this morning. 

The new cases are the most in four days, though down quite a bit from last Friday, when the province logged 1,890 infections. Because of the cyclical nature of testing in Ontario, it is most illuminating to compare the same days of the week.

The seven-day average of daily cases fell to 1,353, its lowest point since March 16. 

Another 2,362 infections were marked resolved in today's update. There are now about 14,179 active cases provincewide, down from nearly 43,000 during the peak of the third wave of the pandemic.

As of Thursday, there were 1,023 people with COVID-related illnesses in hospitals. Of those, 645 were being treated in intensive care units, while 458 needed a ventilator to breathe.

The additional deaths pushed the official toll to 8,711.

Ford also addressed a public letter he sent this week, soliciting advice from medical experts, children's hospitals and health organizations on how Ontario could go about reopening schools before the end of the academic year next month.

"I look forward to hearing back from the experts," Ford said.

"I don't want to rush this. If it takes a couple extra days, so be it."

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