Ontario plans to soon start offering fourth doses of COVID-19 vaccines to residents aged 60 and older, the province’s health minister said on Tuesday.
Christine Elliott said the province will announce a plan on Wednesday for expanding eligibility for second booster shots.
“Our medical advisers have recommended … that we go to 60 to provide an added level of protection to the residents of Ontario,” she said at the provincial legislature.
“We will have further details about the particulars available tomorrow, but 60 is going to be at the age at which people can receive (fourth shots).”
Fourth doses in Ontario are already available to long-term care and retirement home residents as well as those who are immunocompromised.
Ontario’s plan to open fourth-dose access to people aged 60 and older follows new advice from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization. On Tuesday, the committee said provinces and territories should start preparing plans to roll out fourth shots in the coming weeks, prioritizing those 80 and older and residents in long-term care.
The developments on Ontario’s vaccination plans came as COVID-19 hospitalizations have been rising in the province – 1,091 people were in hospital with the virus Tuesday, nearly 40 per cent higher than a week ago.
Ontario ended mask mandates in most public spaces two weeks ago, with the exception of public transit and health-care settings such as hospitals and long-term care homes.
Premier Doug Ford on Monday called the rise in cases “a little spike” that the province anticipated, and Elliott repeated that messaging on Tuesday.
“It’s not unanticipated that this would happen. This is something that when you’re opening up the province to the degree that we have, and with the transmissibility of this virus, that we expected to see the numbers increase,” Elliott said.
Like Ford, she pointed to the addition of 3,100 new hospital beds, the province’s highly vaccinated population and access to antiviral drugs that she said would help the province fight off the latest wave of cases.
“We have the measures that we need to deal with this,” she said.
Earlier Tuesday, Elliott also said the province planned to make it easier to access an antiviral COVID-19 drug.
Immunocompromised adults and older COVID-19 patients who are unvaccinated are eligible to receive Paxlovid in Ontario. But concerns have been raised about difficulty accessing the drug, which is only effective if treatment starts within five days of symptom onset.
Elliott said Paxlovid was initially distributed through 26 sites, and now that supply has increased, the province intends to bring more sites into the rollout such as pharmacies and other locations.
She said the province is also planning to expand its education program about the drug so individuals may learn that they are eligible.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 5, 2022.