Ontario is expanding eligibility for fourth shots of COVID-19 vaccines to all adults this week, but the province’s top doctor said healthy people under the age of 60 who have had three doses already may want to wait until the fall for a second booster.
As of Thursday, Ontarians between 18 and 59 years old who had a first booster shot at least five months ago will be able to book an appointment get a second. It must also be at least three months since a COVID-19 infection.
At a Wednesday morning news conference, Dr. Kieran Moore said the expansion of eligibility is particularly aimed at adults who have underlying health issues and are at higher risk of severe infection. He said relatively healthy adults who have already had three doses of COVID-19 vaccines may want to wait until the fall when it is anticipated that an Omicron-specific vaccine will be available in Ontario.
“This dose is really for those who are vulnerable,” Moore told reporters.
Moore said most Ontarians under 60 have strong protection against the virus more than six months after their first booster but expanding fourth-dose eligibility will ensure they can make an “informed decision” based on their personal situation, pointing to risk factors like smoking or diabetes .
WATCH | Moore elaborates on who should get a second booster now:
“It’s not a ‘should,’ it’s absolutely a ‘may’ depending on your personal circumstances,” Moore said.
People who choose to take the second booster this summer may have to wait five months for their next shots, or three if they are immune suppressed, though Moore noted that the exact timeline is unclear.
Currently, only people aged 60 and older, long-term care or retirement home residents, and indigenous people are among the select groups who can get a second booster in the province.
Moore had previously said the province’s main focus was on getting third doses to all eligible adults. About five million Ontarians have not yet had a first booster, including about a million people over 50.
He reiterated that Ontario’s seventh wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is being fueled by the highly transmissible Omicron BA.5 subvariant, which is now the dominant strain in the province.
“We know it’s the summertime and people want to move on past the pandemic, but it’s a clear reality now that we have to deal with this BA.5 variant,” he said.
The wave is expected to peak within the next two weeks, according to Moore, with COVID-related hospitalizations and intensive care admissions rising until then.
There are currently no immediate plans to recommend re-implementing previous public health measures, but that could change if the health-care system becomes “threatened” by COVID-19 admissions, Moore said.
About 70 per cent of Ontario’s intensive care unit beds are in use, and Moore said he does not expect this wave to inhibit the health system’s ability to provide care to those who need it. He also stressed that therapeutic COVID treatments like Paxlovid are helping to keep infected people out of the system.
Ontario’s hospitals are currently under unprecedented strain due to a number of factors, including staff burnout and shortages.
The province also confirmed today that it will continue to distribute free rapid antigen tests through venues that include grocery stories and pharmacies until Dec. 31, 2022. The program had been set to expire at the end of July.