Millions of Ontarians could be getting COVID-19 shots sooner than expected.
Less than a week after saying people under age 60 wouldn’t be vaccinated until sometime this summer, the province said Monday it may delay second doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for as long as four months to speed up a plan that has been criticized as too slow.
“Our government is keenly interested in doing everything possible to get as many vaccines into arms as quickly as possible,” Health Minister Christine Elliott and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said in a statement Monday.
The province is awaiting “direction” from the federal government and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization on intervals for second doses following moves by British Columbia’s health officer.
“As indicated by Dr. Bonnie Henry … there is growing evidence to suggest that the interval between first and second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines can be safely extended to four months while maintaining a strong and sustained level of protection,” the statement said.
“We all know that the sooner the people of Ontario are immunized, the more lives will be saved and the sooner everyone can start to return to normal.”
The original intervals were about three weeks for Pfizer and four weeks for Moderna, but had been extended to up to seven weeks based on previously available scientific evidence.
Premier Doug Ford’s government has drawn fire for a vaccination rollout that won’t start province-wide for those aged 80 and older until the third week of March, although some health units are already providing shots to them.
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An online and telephone booking system won’t begin operation until March 15. The next age groups for booking will be 75 and up starting April 15, 70 and over staring May 1, 65 and over on June 1, and those 60 and over not eligible until July 1.
No timelines have been provided for anyone under 60, leaving millions of Ontarians in the dark as they see other provinces and neighbouring U.S. states provide more details to their citizens.
“There’s really no excuse for the government being this far behind,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Monday of the delay in getting a province-wide booking system in operation, given that the first vaccines arrived in mid-December.
“That’s something that could have been done … in December, in January,” Liberal MPP John Fraser (Ottawa South) told reporters, noting the vaccination program is “the biggest public health exercise in the history of this province.”
Elliott and Jones said the vaccination plan will be updated once details are known on extending dose intervals and on pending shipments of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was approved Friday by Health Canada.
To date, Ontario has administered 704,695 shots, including just over 17,400 on Sunday. About 263,000 people have been given two doses, including nursing and retirement home workers and front-line health care workers.
Last week, the province said it would stop holding second doses in reserve because there is greater certainty in larger incoming shipments in the weeks and months ahead after shortfalls from Pfizer and Moderna in January.
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1
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