Following calls from top doctors and health experts to accelerate second shots in COVID-19 hotspots, the province announced Thursday it will begin to accept vaccine appointments as of Monday for those living in areas where the Delta variant is prevalent.
Starting June 14, anyone living in Toronto, Peel Region, Halton, York Region, Waterloo, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, and Porcupine – regardless of postal code – who received their first shot on or before May 9 is eligible to book a second dose appointment.
Despite calls to reduce the wait time for AstraZeneca shots, the changes announced Thursday does not apply to the vaccine, as the government says it will stick with its 12-week interval between doses.
Residents will be able to book through the province’s online portal, through their respective public health units’ booking websites, or by using select pharmacies.
For those not living in any of the aforementioned regions that received their first shot on or before May 9, the province says you’ll be able to book your second appointment starting the week of July 12 through July 19.
Anyone that received their first shot from March 8 to April 18 has been able to book second dose appointments as of June 7.
The province has been able to move forward with accelerated second doses due to an increase in vaccine supply.
The Ford government has said they will look to further accelerate things based on the availability of vaccines.
For those with a first dose received from May 10 to May 30, second shot appointments can be booked starting August 2.
From May 31 and onwards, second dose appointments will be accepted during the week of August 2.
Residents that were treated with a first dose of AstraZeneca are still able to choose either an mRNA vaccine for their second shots (Pfizer or Moderna) or a second dose of AstraZeneca.
The Ford government recently announced that as of June 4, those with a first dose of AstraZeneca looking to be treated with a second shot of that vaccine could begin booking second shot appointments at participating pharmacies.
Since June 7, anyone treated with a first dose of AstraZeneca hoping to receive a second shot of an mRNA vaccine is allowed to book an appointment through Ontario’s vaccine portal or a public health unit’s website, as well as participating pharmacies.
Health authorities said they were sticking with a 12-week interval for those who received the 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.
Public health officials have already said people who received AstraZeneca initially can safely take one of the other mRNA vaccines for a second dose.
The more transmissible Delta variant, first detected in India, has prompted politicians and public health officials urging the provincial government to learn from the early mistakes of its vaccine rollout and prioritize Peel Region for second doses.
Scientific evidence shows people with one vaccine dose are less protected against the highly infectious Delta variant.
The B.1.617 variant is poised to become the dominant strain in Peel Region, and perhaps provincially, as soon as this month.
“On Friday I want to remind our residents these first steps to reopening are not a full return to normal. We do have high first-dose coverage but we have low second-dose coverage,” said Peel’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh.
Meanwhile, the Porcupine Health Unit will not be moving to the first stage of the province’s re-opening plan tomorrow.
Dr. Lianne Cotton, its medical officer of health, says the region is still experiencing a third wave worsened by the Delta variant at much greater rates.
“Many of the restrictions currently in place, will remain in place,” said Cotton.
“Some of the other rules will be delayed to minimize in-person to person interaction. This is absolutely critical. COVID-19 travels when we interact with one another.”
In a separate move, Toronto announced Thursday it is now prioritizing 18 hotspot postal codes for first and second doses.
Starting today, the Team Toronto Sprint Strategy 2.0 mobile and pop-up clinics will refocus their efforts in areas where there is a high incidence of COVID-19 and low vaccine coverage.
Workplace mobile clinics to begin offering 2nd vaccine shots in hotspots
Starting June 20, workplace mobile clinics located in Peel Region, Toronto, and York Region – as well as employer-led clinics in Peel – will start administering second doses.
“Provincially supported mobile and pop-up vaccine clinics that delivered first doses in hotspots including Peel are being accelerated to ensure that priority populations, including those who can’t work from home, are provided with second doses as quickly as possible.”
Dr. Loh said Wednesday that science shows that only 33 to 50 per cent protection is afforded against the Delta variant with one dose.
“That protection may not be enough to forestall a resurgence if we reopen and reengage too quickly.”
Pfizer, Moderna shipments to be steady through July
The province says it will continue to receive steady shipments from Pfizer and Moderna through July.
Ontario is slated to get roughly 3.7 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine in June and another 3.5 million shots through the month of July.
Moderna, who announced a recent shipment of 7 million doses slated to arrive in Canada this month, is providing Ontario with around 37,000 doses as of June 7. This supply is expected to ramp up in the coming weeks.
Those aged 70 and older, as well as people who received their first dose of an mRNA vaccine on or before April 18, can now book their second shot at mass immunization clinics on the province’s online booking portal or through its phone line.
Over 70% of Ontarians have received 1st dose
The province says that 73 per cent of adults have received at least one shot as of Thursday and more than 11 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated.
Incredibly, 99 per cent of long-term care residents are now fully immunized and roughly 95 per cent of those aged 80 and older have received one dose, followed by adults aged 70 to 79 at 92 per cent and residents between the ages of 60 and 69 at 86 per cent.
Approximately 10.6 million doses have been administered in the province to date.
Step 1 of Ontario’s reopening plan, fast-tracked to begin on Friday, requires that 60 per cent of adults be vaccinated with one dose.
Step 2, now tentatively slated for July 2, requires that 70 per cent of adults have one dose and 20 per cent be fully vaccinated.
There also need to be more positive trends in public health otherwise the beginning of this stage will be postponed.