Ontario is expanding eligibility for fourth doses of COVID-19 vaccines to all adults this week, the province’s chief medical officer of health said Wednesday.
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 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 circumstances.
He said that getting a fourth dose sooner will not impact later eligibility for the Omicron-specific vaccine, though it may require a waiting period of several months between shots.
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 fuelled by the highly transmissible Omicron BA.5 subvariant, which is now the dominant strain in the province. 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.
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 provide free rapid antigen tests until Dec. 31, 2022. The program had been set to expire at the end of July.