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Ontario offering second COVID-19 vaccine shots earlier than expected

Friday, May 28, 2021 @ 2:36 PM | By John Schofield

Ontario has announced it is shortening the interval between the first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines starting with individuals aged 80 and over effective May 31.

If vaccine supplies hold, the government said in a May 28 news release, the majority of Ontarians aged 12 and over who want to be inoculated will be fully vaccinated by the end of the summer. But it cautioned that the timing of second dose appointments may vary based on local considerations, vaccine supply and the date of first dose appointment.

The government said it is on track to meet its goal of vaccinating 65 per cent of Ontario residents with at least one dose by the end of May.

Under the accelerated schedule, said the news release, individuals turning 80 and over in 2021 will be eligible to book their second-dose appointment through the provincial booking system or a pharmacy starting May 31 at 8 a.m. They may also call the provincial booking line at 1-833-943-3900. Those aged 70 and over can begin booking June 14. The province will continue expanding eligibility for second dose appointments based on the date of the first dose.

For some, the interval between doses will work out to as little as four weeks compared to the original 16 weeks.

In booking the second dose, individuals may return to where they had their first dose or may arrange to go to another location, instructed the release. The government said more information on second-dose booking will be forthcoming for people in public health units that use their own booking system or who received their doses from the primary care provider or through a pop-up clinic.

The province recently shortened the time between doses for the AstraZeneca vaccine, with a 10-week interval for individuals who received their first dose between March 10 to March 19 and 12 weeks for all others, depending on supply.

Eligible individuals are encouraged to contact the pharmacy or primary care provider where they received their first dose to book an appointment. According to news reports, however, pharmacies have not yet received a batch of 45,000 AstraZeneca doses that are due to expire on May 31, and some pharmacists and doctors are warning they could go to waste.

The province has also expanded eligibility for the Pfizer vaccine to youth aged 12, with appointment booking now possible through the provincial booking system and call centre, public health units that use their own booking systems, or select pharmacies administering the Pfizer vaccine. To prepare youth 12 to 17 for the return to school in September, the government release said, the province expects all those willing to be inoculated to receive their first shot before the end of June and their second dose before the end of August 2021. To immunize young people in Ontario’s remote fly-in communities, the province’s Ornge air ambulance system will lead Operation Remote Immunity 2.0 starting May 31.

The government said the provincewide declaration of emergency and stay-at-home order will expire on June 2, but so-called “emergency brake” public health measures and restrictions will remain in place until the province is ready to enter step 1 of its Roadmap to Reopen.

In a May 28 news release, Ontario NDP Official Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath welcomed the news that Ontarians will receive their second doses sooner than expected, but urged the government to improve its vaccine booking system before individuals start scheduling their shots.

“Getting the first dose of the COVID vaccines was the hunger games for millions of Ontarians,” she said. “Now Doug Ford is planning to repeat that. He’s not putting an ounce of effort or investment into making second dose booking better for people. This especially puts seniors at a disadvantage.”

On May 28, Ontario reported 1,273 new cases of COVID-19 and another 14 virus-related deaths. The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units dropped to 645, down from 715 on May 21.

Toronto and Peel Region again led the province in new cases, with 269 in Toronto and 268 in Peel. Ottawa came next with 101, then Hamilton with 78 and Durham Region with 72. The rolling, seven-day average of new cases declined to 1,353, compared with 2,064 on May 21.

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