Ontario moves up second shots of COVID-19 vaccine in Delta variant hot spots including Toronto, Peel

Ontario moves up second shots of COVID-19 vaccine in Delta variant hot spots including Toronto, Peel
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Ontario is moving up second doses of COVID-19 vaccines for Pfizer and Moderna recipients in parts of the GTA and four other areas where the highly contagious Delta strain poses the greatest threat.

People who live in Toronto, the regions of Peel, York, Halton and Waterloo as well as the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph and Porcupine (Timmins area) health units can begin booking boosters Monday at 8 a.m. through the provincial or health unit appointment systems and pharmacies, officials said Thursday.

The eligibility — which has been accelerated by a month — applies to those who got first doses on or before May 9. There are no restrictions by postal codes.

“We will continue to expand eligibility for accelerated second doses as additional vaccine allocations are confirmed by the federal government as Ontario begins to reopen,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said as the province reported its seven-day average of new cases fell further to 617 infections with 11 more deaths.

An additional 2 million doses of the Moderna vaccine are expected by the end of June on top of almost 5 million from Pfizer by the end of July.

Health officials in Peel have been calling for accelerated second doses for more than a week as Ontario prepares to in the first step of a three-stage plan to reopen the economy after months of lockdowns.

“This is what we were asking for. It will help us vaccinate a large number of our essential workers,” said Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown. “This is a very helpful move.”

Other jurisdictions such as Northern Ireland are moving to shorter gaps such as eight weeks to provide better protection again the Delta or B.1.617 strain first discovered in India and expected to become dominant in Peel next month and across Ontario this summer.

“Folks who did the right thing and got their first AstraZeneca shot are anxious to receive their second,” said New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath. “The Ford government shouldn’t be leaving them behind.”

While peak effectiveness for second doses of AstraZeneca is at 12 weeks, shortening the interval “is under very active discussion” for Ontario, associate chief medical officer Dr. Barbara Yaffe told a news conference.

“It could be sooner,” said Steini Brown, co-chair of the science table advising Premier Doug Ford and dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

Delta is 50 per cent more transmissible and possibly “more dangerous” than the B.1.1.7 or Alpha variant identified in the United Kingdom last fall and which took over as the main strain in Ontario over the winter, fuelling the third wave, he added. The Alpha variant is 50 per cent more transmissible than original COVID strains and carries a higher risk of hospitalization.

“We need to get more vaccines out quickly and we need to move quickly into second doses to help fight the Delta variant. Our hospitals are still stretched,” Brown said, noting Ontario hospital intensive care units have more COVID-19 patients now than at the peak of the second wave.

Administering second doses faster in danger areas can control surges and “minimize the risk of spillover to other communities” that could lead to a fourth wave, he told reporters.

“This is not a doomsday scenario...we’ve got a good chance of controlling the Delta variant.”

New daily infections should continue falling over the next 10 days, according to computer modelling that also shows ICU occupancy in hospitals could fall by more than half current levels to below 200 by mid-July, allowing hospitals to resume normal operations and most surgeries, Brown added.

Elliott said extra vaccines are not being sent to the Delta zones just yet.

“We are asking the areas in those seven units that are the Delta concern areas to use what they have in their freezers first and then we will happily supply them with additional supplies so that they can continue to work on their first doses as well as their second doses,” she added.

While the Delta variant is now dominant in the United Kingdom — and where it has caused cases to soar 63 per cent in the last week — the spread has been in pockets where vaccination rates were low, Brown said.
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