Ontario opens bivalent boosters to those aged 12 and over as indicators show COVID-19 on the rise
Mask mandates on the table if hospitals get too strained: chief medical officer of health
Ontario is opening appointments for everyone aged 12 and over to receive an Omicron-targeted COVID-19 vaccine starting next week as indicators show the virus is on the rise.
Heading into the colder months, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore says he'll also recommend the return of mask mandates if there is too much strain on the health-care system.
Moore says he's concerned about the level of COVID-19 protection in the province as cases and hospitalizations start to trend upward, along with the resurgence in influenza and other viruses.
"If all Ontarians don't take advantage of influenza vaccination, as well as COVID vaccination, that could put a threat to the health of Ontarians in general and our health system's ability to cope," Moore told CBC Toronto.
"And we never want to get in that position where we can't care for all Ontarians appropriately."
New data released Thursday from the province's Ministry of Health shows 17.1 per cent of tests are coming back positive compared to 13.3 just one week ago.
There are 1,629 people hospitalized with COVID-19, an increase from 1,456 last Thursday. Of those hospitalized, 143 people are in intensive care, 12 people more since last week's update. And of those in the ICU, 56 patients require a ventilator to breathe, up from 49 last week.
The province is reporting 67 more people have died from the virus.
Early this year, the Ontario government — in consultation with Moore — eased and then removed public health measures such as gathering and capacity limits, proof of vaccination requirements and mask mandates, except in long-term care homes.
This fall and winter are set to be the first since the beginning of the pandemic without those measures in place.
Pfizer bivalent vaccine shipments expected this week
As the province is expected to receive its first shipments of the Pfizer bivalent vaccine from the federal government this week, Ontarians aged 12 to 17 will be eligible to book an appointment as of Monday, the Ministry of Health said.
Roughly 56 per cent of those 12 to 17 have completed their two-dose COVID-19 vaccination series, Moore says, compared to 90 per cent of the general population who completed their first vaccination series.
Moore says 750,000 Ontarians have gotten boosted to date, but only 16 per cent of them are those 70 and older, a rate he calls "unacceptable." The province completed 30,000 vaccinations on Wednesday, but Moore says they have the capacity to do 80,000 a day.
"I would love to use that full capacity," said Moore.
Adults over 18 were able to book bivalent booster appointments since Sept. 12, but the province said it would prioritize vulnerable groups, such as seniors and those who are immunocompromised, until Sept. 26. Moderna's bivalent vaccine is still only available for those 18 and older, Moore confirms.
The ministry has said the recommended wait between shots is six months from the last booster dose, but the minimum interval is 84 days. Moore says while healthy individuals should follow the recommended timeframe, those at risk for the virus and people who are in environments with vulnerable people should consider getting the booster at the three-month mark.
Starting Nov. 1, flu shots will also be available and may safely be given at the same time, or at any time before or after COVID-19 vaccine, the ministry said.
Mask mandates might return, Moore says
Moore says while the province is seeing an increase in all COVID-19 indicators, he's not ready to declare an eighth wave just yet.
"We never truly finished this seventh wave. It's plateaued," said Moore, noting the recent rise in cases is associated with newer variants and potentially the population's "fading" immunity.
Moore says if the hospital system is strained to a point where the ability to reduce the surgical backlog is affected, he would first suggest the government make a "recommendation" on masking in settings such as post-secondary institutions, malls and public transit.
There is enough ICU capacity, Moore says. However, emergency departments have reported strain and long wait times in recent weeks.
If there are further knock-on effects from the virus, Moore says at that point he would recommend reinstating some mask mandates.
"Ontario has been great at following the recommendations on getting immunized and it's really now a call for everyone to listen," said Moore.
"You're going to be hearing me more loudly and more clearly in the coming weeks if we're not achieving the level of protection we need in Ontario."
With files from The Canadian Press and Clara Pasieka
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