Ontario Becomes Global Leader In First-dose Coverage

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Two people sit and watch storm clouds passing by the skyline in Toronto on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. Ontario will release new COVID-19 projections today on the eve of its economic reopening. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Ontario is accelerating second doses of COVID-19 vaccines for people in Delta variant hot spots as health authorities said on Thursday the province had become a world leader in first-dose vaccination coverage.

Starting Monday, residents in seven designated areas who received their first dose on or before May 9 can now book an appointment for an earlier second shot.

“To further stop the spread of COVID-19 and support Delta hot spots, we are further expanding booking eligibility for an accelerated dose in select regions across the province,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said Thursday.

 

The strategy is focused on Toronto, Peel, Halton, Porcupine, Waterloo, York and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph. The government is also encouraging residents in those areas who don’t yet have a first dose to get one.

Scientific evidence shows people with one vaccine dose are less protected against the highly infectious Delta variant.

Experts, including the scientific director of the province’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, have said Ontario should focus its second dose efforts on areas where the Delta variant is taking off.

Health authorities said they were sticking with a 12-week interval for those who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine as their first dose, based on scientific evidence, but were shortening the gap in hot spots for those who got Moderna and Pfizer shots to as little as four weeks where supplies are available.

Elliott said the timing of AstraZeneca doses was based on the best available scientific and medical evidence.

“That is the gold standard,” Elliott said.

People who received AstraZeneca initially can opt to take one of the other mRNA vaccines for a second dose after 12 weeks as well.

Thursday’s move was the province’s latest expansion of access to second doses. Last Friday, those aged 70 and older and people who received an mRNA vaccine on or before April 18 were able to start booking second doses.

Latest data show Ontario has now surpassed both the U.S. and U.K. in relative terms when it comes to the percentage of the population who have received one dose of a COVID vaccine. The province has now also matched or outpaced Israel in terms of first dose vaccination rates.

In all, 73 per cent of adults in the province have now had one shot, while 11 per cent are fully vaccinated. Almost 12 million arms have been jabbed, data show.

Among priority groups, almost every resident of long-term care homes has been fully vaccinated. Overall, those aged 70 and up are well above 90 per cent in terms of first doses. At the other end, almost 40 per cent of youths aged 12 to 17 have had one shot.

“We can all be proud of the progress we have made together,” Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said. “It is now possible to cautiously begin lifting certain public health and workplace safety measures.”

On Friday, Ontario enters the first of its three-stage reopening plan. That means limited retail shopping and patio dining will be allowed among other things. More restrictions will loosen after 21 days, if pandemic indicators improve and more people get vaccinated.

Whether the timeline for the next phase is pushed forward or back will depend on what happens in the coming weeks, Elliott said.

“We need to see how that goes,” Elliott said. “It’s too soon to say what we might be able to do with subsequent intervals.”

Ontario reported on Thursday 590 new cases of COVID-19 and 11 more deaths linked to the virus. Of the 516 people in hospital with coronavirus disease, 450 were in intensive care and 291 needed a ventilator, the Ministry of Health said.

Health authorities were set to release new infection projections later in the day.

The province said it was basing its second-dose strategy on a “first-in, first out” approach to ensure those prioritized for initial inoculations would remain prioritized for second shots.

Those in priority areas can book their second shots through the provincial reservation system, directly through the public health units with their own systems or through participating pharmacies.

The province said it would set aside higher supplies for the targeted areas. It also said it would support mobile and pop-up clinics. With provincial support, workplace clinics in Peel, York and Toronto will start providing second doses to priority groups as of June 20.

Those who received vaccines out of province are also being encouraged to contact their local health units to ensure a proper record in the province’s COVAX database. This would allow them to book second doses and receive an Ontario certificate of immunization.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2021.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

 

 

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