Health care workers with jobs classified by Ontario as “high risk” will be eligible this week to book their second COVID-19 vaccine shot for a date less than four months after their first, a change that some have been pleading for.
In Ontario, the standard interval between COVID-19 vaccine doses is four months – longer than recommended by the companies that produce the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca vaccines, but one okayed by Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization, and designed to get first dose protection into more arms, more quickly.
On Monday, the province announced that “due to increased vaccine supply,” it will add high-risk health-care workers as well as dialysis patients and First Nations, Inuit and Métis individuals to the list of groups allowed to book an appointment to receive dose two earlier than four months after their first dose.
“These groups face a greater risk of contracting and suffering serious illness from COVID-19,” said the province in a news release.
Booking will be available by the end of the week, with details provided in the coming days.
The list of health-care workers considered high-risk includes “all hospital and acute care staff in frontline roles with COVID-19 patients and/or with a high-risk of exposure to COVID-19,” including those in critical care units and emergency departments; all patient-facing health-care workers involved in the COVID-19 response, such as those at testing sites; medical first responders; and community health-care workers serving specialized populations, such as those delivering supervised consumption and treatment services.
Meanwhile, all Ontarians 40 and older as of this year will be eligible to book a vaccination appointment through the provincial system starting Thursday at 8 a.m.
As of Tuesday at 8 a.m., those with high risk health conditions will be allowed to book appointments, as will workers in Group 2 of people who cannot work from home.
At-risk conditions include auto immune disorders, dementia, diabetes, respiratory disorders like asthma, heart disease and substance abuse disorders, among other things.
Group 2 includes retail and restaurant workers, workers in manufacturing that supports the COVID-19 response, construction workers, bus and truck drivers, court and justice system workers, veterinarians and social workers, among others.
Half of Ontario’s vaccine supply is being diverted to COVID-19 hot spots this week for the second week.
Starting next week, vaccines are set to be distributed per capita once again.
On Monday, Toronto’s Board of Health voted unanimously to ask the province to divert 50 per cent of the vaccine supply for four weeks to hot spot areas, as recommended by the Ontario science advisory table.
Ontario has now administered more than 6.2 million vaccines doses, including 94,093 in the last day.
Ontario reported 2,716 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, a low not seen since April 1.
The seven-day average for daily cases in Ontario is now 3,017. Last Monday, 3,436 new cases were reported.
The total number of new cases logged across the province in the last 24-hour period include 86 in Ottawa, 20 in Renfrew County and District, nine in Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington, six in Eastern Ontario and three in Leeds, Grenville & Lanark.
In terms of active cases, the hardest-hit regions of the province are currently Peel (560 cases per 100,000), Toronto (390), Durham Region (254), Niagara Region (238) and Halton Region (228). Ottawa, comparatively, has 158 active cases per 100,000, according to provincial data.
Nineteen addition deaths were added to the total number of lives lost to the disease in Ontario, which now sits at 8,327.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 (1,632), and in ICU (828), both fell in the last day, continuing their recent downward trend.
COVID-19 in Ottawa: cases decline, two deaths
Ottawa Public Health reported 83 new cases and two additional deaths Monday, while the number of active cases across the city continued to decline, now totalling 1,374.
At one point in mid-April, there were more than 3,800 active cases in the city.
The number of Ottawa residents hospitalized with COVID-19 (73), and in ICU (19), also declined in the last day.
OPH data shows that a week ago, there were 101 Ottawans in hospital, with 24 in ICU.
Locally, no new outbreaks of COVID-19 were reported Monday.
COVID-19 in Ontario: the surgical backlog
Meanwhile, Ontario’s fiscal watchdog says it will take the province approximately three and a half years to clear the surgical backlog from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Financial Accountability Office projects that the backlog of cancelled surgeries will reach 419,200 procedures by the end of September.
The FAO estimates it will cost the province $1.3 billion to clear the backlog, and notes the government has allocated $610 million in its latest budget to address the issue.
The watchdog says its projections on clearing the backlog assumes hospitals will be able to operate at 11 per cent above pre-pandemic volumes in the coming years.
Overall, the FAO says the province will have a $61.9 billion spending shortfall in the health-care sector over the next nine years.
It says if the province intends to reach its health sector spending targets it will need to introduce new spending-restraint measures.
Vaccinations across Canada
Quebec long-term care residents who had received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine have now received a booster shot, according to Seniors Minister Marguerite Blais.
The province’s vaccination campaign continues to ramp up with residents 30 and older eligible to book an appointment.
Eligibility will be extended to those 25 and above on Wednesday and 18 and above on Friday.
Plans for people under the age of 18 will be announced at a later date, but Quebec plans to give a first dose to students 12 and older by the end of June.
Quebec has now administered nearly 3.8 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, including 61,768 in the previous 24 hours. The province is home to some 8.5 million people.
Canada is scheduled to receive two million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot this week as provinces begin to expand their vaccine eligibility.
The new doses headline what should be a comparatively quiet week of vaccine deliveries after Moderna delivered one million doses ahead of schedule last week.
The next shipment of Moderna shots isn’t expected until next week.
The federal government has not said when Canada will receive more doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca or Johnson and Johnson vaccines.
The military commander handling logistics for Canada’s vaccine distribution program says there will be enough vaccine delivered to give a first dose before Canada Day to every Canadian over the age of 12.
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin says that’s if provinces follow the advice to delay second doses up to four months.
He also cautions that it is dependent on having no production delays again.
Nationwide, 1,248,931 people or 3.3 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated. The rate varies widely by province.
As of Sunday, Newfoundland had the lowest rate, with 1.27 per cent of the population fully vaccinated, followed by B.C. with 1.94 per cent; Ontario with 2.67 per cent; New Brunswick with 3.81 per cent; Nova Scotia with 3.86 per cent; Saskatchewan with 3.92 per cent; Manitoba with 5.51 per cent; P.E.I with 6.78 per cent; Alberta with 7.19 per cent; Nunavut with 32.97 per cent; Northwest Territories with 48.04 per cent; and Yukon with 55.23 per cent.
with files from the Canadian Press and Postmedia