Ontario may expand third COVID-19 vaccine dose eligibility this week, health minister says

Health Minister Christine Elliott says that the Ontario government is considering expanding third dose eligibility to more age groups amid concerns about the new Omicron variant and will have “more to say later this week.”

Ontario’s current guidelines limit third dose eligibility to a handful of groups making up about 20 per cent of the province’s population, including those over 70, people who received two doses of the Astra Zeneca vaccine, immunocompromised individuals, Indigenous Ontarians and residents in long-term care and retirement homes.

But there are now increasing calls to accelerate the rollout of third doses before the Omricon variant has a chance to spread widely in Ontario.

The province is currently sitting on a supply of 3.8 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

“We are urging more Ontarians to please come forward and be vaccinated and we're also looking at other age groups for the booster,” Elliott told reporters at Queen’s Park on Monday morning. “We'll have more to say about that later in the week because we want to have that extra layer of protection.”

The detection of the new variant in South Africa last week has caused significant alarm as there are some reports suggesting that the currently existing vaccines may be less effective against it due to a number of mutations in its genetic code.

So far there are only two known cases of the variant in Ontario – both involving individuals who returned to Ottawa from Nigeria – but public health officials have said that they anticipate that more cases will be detected in the coming days.

“We shouldn’t be naïve. This is bound to take over the world and it will be dominant in a few weeks to a few months,” Dr. Peter Juni, who is the scientific director of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, told CP24 on Monday. “It happened very fast in South Africa and it could happen relatively fast in the rest of the world as well.”

The Ford government has previously that it planned to roll out third doses for the general public, based on age and risk factors, starting sometime early in 2022.

Speaking with CP24, Juni conceded that there is still lots to learn about the new variant.

However, he said that it is unlikely that it will be proven to render vaccines completely ineffective.

“It makes sense to assume that any immunity that you have will at least partially protect you. That means that what is important now is to just continue the path that we have went on very successfully and to just continue to vaccinate,” he said. “Get your third doses if you can, get your first or second in any case, all of this thing w would be completely evading the immune system so we are not protected any more against hospital admissions, ICU admissions and death.”

Ontario’s plan for the rollout of third doses states that people will generally only be eligible for a booster shot no earlier than six months after receipt of their second shot.