Ontarians 60+ to be eligible for 4th COVID-19 vaccine doses starting Thursday
Latest wastewater data by science table suggests infections almost at Omicron peak in early January
Ontario is opening up eligibility for fourth COVID-19 vaccine doses to those aged 60 and older as wastewater data suggests the number of infections is almost as high as in early January, when Omicron was at its peak.
Ontarians 60 and up, as well as all Indigenous residents and their non-Indigenous household members aged 18 or older, will be able to book their second booster shot through the province's online portal starting Thursday at 8 a.m, the province said in a news release Wednesday.
"As we continue to live with COVID-19, we are using every tool available to manage this virus and reduce its impact on our hospitals and health system, including by expanding the use of booster doses," said Minister of Health Christine Elliott.
The recommended interval for a second booster dose is five months after a person receives their last booster, a Health Ministry spokesperson said.
Elliott said Tuesday the plan to open eligibility comes after recommendations from the province's medical advisers.
Fourth doses are already available to long-term care and retirement home residents and immunocompromised people in Ontario.
'No cause for panic,' says Elliott
At a news conference Wednesday morning, Elliott once again said the province was expecting a spike in infections as the province opened back up "to get us back to our economic strengths."
Vaccines and antiviral drugs should help the province weather the latest surge, she said.
"This is something that we are sure we're going to be able to get through, there is no cause for panic."
Premier Doug Ford also denied that his government is downplaying the severity of the latest wave because of an election on the horizon.
"We can handle this. We have the resources," Ford said.
When asked why Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore hasn't spoken to Ontarians in weeks despite rising case counts and hospitalizations, Ford said that Moore "never rests" and is "on the job 24/7."
4th doses won't dampen 6th wave, expert says
Infectious diseases physician and scientist, Dr. Isaac Bogoch, said the broadening of vaccine eligibility is a good move but might not be enough to prevent a rise in infections as health experts warn of a sixth COVID-19 wave underway.
"Based on what we know now ... it does appear that this fourth dose could help really people who are frail, people who are on the older end of the spectrum, people who are at greatest risk of a severe outcome from COVID," Bogoch told CBC Radio's Metro Morning Wednesday.
"I don't think it's going to alter the trajectory of this wave one bit, but it certainly can help individuals who are at risk of more severe outcomes," he said.
Bogoch noted that it was not the right time for the province to scrap the mask mandate in most indoor settings last month "when you see something brewing on the horizon."
"Why did we lift the mandate in the first place when we had cases rising and it was clear that we were going to have something, a bump, a small wave, a big wave ... it was uncertain what we were going to have, but we knew we were going to have something."
The vaccine eligibility announcement comes after the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) advised provinces and territories to prepare to roll out fourth shots in the coming weeks.
The committee is recommending provinces prioritize people aged 80 and older and long-term care residents, and strongly recommends fourth doses for people between the ages of 70 and 79.
NACI says it's still studying whether second booster shots are necessary for younger adults and adolescents.
WATCH | Many haven't had 3rd doses as 4th doses open up, says respirologist:
Respirologist Dr. Samir Gupta said while elderly people with waning immunity would benefit from a fourth dose, there are still many Canadians who have not received their third shot.
"What people have to understand is that we do have data to suggest that immunity wanes overtime after four months and particularly into the fifth or sixth month after a third dose, there is a little bit of an increased risk of severe disease ... but it remains low," Gupta said.
Infections on the rise, wastewater data shows
Meanwhile, the latest wastewater data released by Ontario's science table suggests infections are on the rise and almost as high as in early January, when Omicron was at its peak.
Dr. Peter Jüni, who heads the science table, said last week the latest projections made by the science table that predicted an increase in hospital occupancy will need to be re-evaluated based on the behaviour health experts are seeing.
Those initial predictions saw an increase of hospitalizations, though not one as high as the peak of the Omicron wave of the pandemic.
The number of people in Ontario hospitals with COVID-19 was up nearly 40 per cent Tuesday compared with a week earlier.
32 more deaths reported
Meanwhile, the province is reporting 1,074 COVID-19 hospitalizations and 32 more deaths linked to the virus Wednesday, the most deaths reported in one day since Feb. 26.
Wednesday's hospitalizations are slightly down from 1,091 the previous day and 778 at this time last week.
Of those hospitalized, 168 of patients are in intensive care. That number is down by five from 173 reported the previous day and 165 reported a week earlier.
According to the Ministry of Health, 46 per cent of people hospitalized were admitted specifically for treatment of symptoms brought on by the virus, while the rest were admitted for other reasons and then tested positive. Meanwhile, 70 per cent of people in ICU were admitted because of COVID-19, while the rest were admitted for other reasons and then tested positive for the virus.
The province reported another 3,444 COVID-19 cases through limited PCR testing Wednesday, with 21,553 tests completed the day before.
However, Dr. Peter Jüni, who heads the province's COVID-19 science table, said last week he estimates the real number of daily cases provincewide to be around 30,000 to 35,000, based on wastewater surveillance data.
Test positivity remained the same as the day before, with the province reporting 18 per cent of COVID-19 tests conducted in the last day have come back as confirmed cases.
The additional deaths reported Wednesday push the total death toll in the province to 12,511.
With files from Adam Carter and The Canadian Press