Ontario is accelerating second shots of COVID-19 vaccines for people in Delta variant hot spots but health authorities said on Thursday they would not shorten the 12-week dosage interval for those who initially received an Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.
Starting Monday, residents in seven designated areas who received first inoculations on or before May 9 can now book an appointment for an earlier second shot.
“To further stop the spread of COVID-19 and support Delta hot spots, we are further expanding booking eligibility for an accelerated dose in select regions across the province,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said Thursday.
The strategy is focused on Toronto, Peel, Halton, Porcupine, Waterloo, York and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph. The government is also encouraging residents in those areas who don’t yet have a first dose to get one.
Health authorities said they were sticking with a 12-week interval for those who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine as first dose 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.
People who received AstraZeneca initially can opt to take one of the other mRNA vaccines for a second dose but still have to wait 12 weeks.
While some jurisdictions have cut the interval to eight weeks, Elliott said Ontario’s 12-week timing was based on the available scientific and medical evidence. “That is the gold standard,” Elliott said.
Scientific evidence shows people with one vaccine dose are less protected against the highly infectious Delta variant. Experts, including the scientific director of the province’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, have said Ontario should focus second dose efforts where the Delta variant has taken off.
Thursday’s move was the province’s latest expansion of access to second doses. Last Friday, those aged 70 and older and people who had an mRNA vaccine on or before April 18 could start booking second doses.
Latest data show Ontario has now surpassed both the U.S. and U.K. when it comes to the percentage of the population who have received one dose of a COVID vaccine. The province has now also matched or outpaced Israel in terms of first dose vaccination rates.
In all, 73 per cent of adults in the province have had one shot, while 11 per cent are fully vaccinated. Almost 12 million arms have been jabbed, data show.
Among priority groups, almost every resident of long-term care homes has been double dosed. Overall, those aged 70 and up are well above 90 per cent in terms of first doses. At the other end, almost 40 per cent of youths aged 12 to 17 have had one shot.
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