Vanessa Williamson could barely contain her excitement Saturday when she learned the Ontario government was shortening the amount of time residents who received AstraZeneca as their first COVID-19 vaccine dose would have to wait for their followup shot.
“Finally!! Means jab #2 this week for me!!” she tweeted.
Williamson, who lives in downtown Toronto, told the Star she couldn’t help but feel “behind the 8-ball” when Ontario had previously said AstraZeneca recipients needed to wait 12 weeks before getting a second shot. Other provinces, including B.C., Alberta and Manitoba, had shortened that interval to eight weeks.
“It’s been a little slow getting up to speed here. I’m going to be positive and say, ‘Thank you for finally doing the right thing,’ ” said Williamson, who plans to take the first shot available to her, be it AstraZeneca or an mRNA vaccine.
In a news release Saturday, the Ontario Health Ministry said it decided to accelerate the second dose interval after consulting with the chief medical health officer and other experts, including the Ontario Science Advisory Table.
“With informed consent, individuals can choose between a second dose of AstraZeneca or an mRNA vaccine, at an eight- to 12-week interval, recognizing that while waiting 12 weeks helps to ultimately provide more protection, some may choose to receive their second dose sooner to have the increased protection provided by a second dose earlier,” the release said.
“All of these options provide protection against COVID-19, including the Delta variant, and have been deemed safe.”
The government said evidence from various studies has shown that mixing COVID-19 vaccines, including receiving an mRNA vaccine after an AstraZeneca vaccine, at dosing intervals between eight and 12 weeks is “safe and demonstrates a beneficial immune response.”
“There is evidence that a longer interval between two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine (such as a 12-week interval) provides higher protection,” the release noted.
Dr. Jennifer Kwan, a Burlington family physician who had been among those health-care practitioners advocating on social media for a shortened interval, said Saturday it’s good that Ontarians who had AstraZeneca as their first dose “now have the opportunity to make an informed choice to have their second dose earlier.”
“Getting a second dose earlier will ensure earlier increased protection against COVID-19, including variants,” she said. “With the spread of the Delta variant, people who have had only one dose were not very protected. So they should have a choice to get the second dose sooner.”
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist, agreed, calling Ontario’s decision “good news.”
“We know there’s a circulating Delta variant in Canada. We know it’s expanding and it’s going to be the dominant variant,” he said. “You’ve enabled people to make the choice to get that second dose at eight weeks should they choose to do so. Great idea to do that.”
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Asked what advice he’d give to people who are uncertain whether to get their second dose at eight weeks or wait until 12 weeks, especially if they stick with AstraZeneca, he replied, “I think we’re splitting hairs here.”
“It’s hard to make blanket statements. Some people may, based on where they live or what they do or who they’re interacting with on a day-to-day basis, opt to get that second dose faster. Others might say, ‘You know what? I’m going to wait 12 weeks.’ As long as you’re making an informed decision, you’re doing the right thing.”
The province had been under growing pressure to shorten the interval from municipal officials and those in health care.
“I don’t understand the Ontario government’s decision to make those of us who took AstraZeneca as our first dose wait 12 weeks, rather than 8, until getting our second if it’s an mRNA,” Councillor Josh Matlow tweeted Thursday. “We’re in a race against COVID-19 variants of concern. Let’s win that race and end this pandemic.”
After Ontario’s announcement Saturday, Matlow offered this reaction: “Once again, the Ontario government chooses the wrong path, they then feel the public pushback, and ultimately capitulate. I’m relieved they did.”
Justin Bates, chief executive officer of the Ontario Pharmacists Association, said pharmacies were already getting flooded with calls Saturday about second doses even though eligibility doesn’t open until Monday morning.
Bates said while his association welcomes the news that AstraZeneca recipients will have the option of getting their second doses sooner, the change needs to be accompanied by a ramp up of vaccine supply.
“If we don’t have a corresponding increase in supply, we’re going to be challenged. If people select to get an mRNA vaccine, we need to see an increase in pharmacies’ supply for Pfizer and Moderna. We’re going through the Pfizer, in particular, in 24 to 48 hours when a pharmacy receives it. We only get 150 doses per pharmacy, per week. So we’re certainly happy to see this but at the same time, it needs to come with the bump in supply,” he said.
“And we need to make sure we get the AstraZeneca supply into the pharmacies so that we can meet that eight-week eligibility mark.”
The Ontario government says it is set to receive about 4.7 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine this month, about 3.5 million Pfizer doses in July and more than two million doses of the Moderna vaccine before the end of June.
Starting Monday at 8 a.m., individuals who got their first dose of AstraZeneca will be able to book their second-dose appointment if they meet the eight-week interval requirement.
Those want to receive a second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine can contact the pharmacy or primary care provider where they got their first dose.
Douglas Quan is a Vancouver-based reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @dougquan
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