It’s been a while since we heard from Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, but Dr. Kieran Moore emerged in front of the press again on Wednesday, and in the midst of a summer COVID wave he invited everyone in the province over the age of 18 to get their second booster. As of Thursday July 18 at 8 am, every adult in Ontario can get a booster if its been five months since their last shot.
“While we’ve entered a new wave, Ontario is experiencing a slower trajectory in this wave as compared to previous waves, and we expect to see the peak of this activity in the next two weeks,” Moore explained during his prepared remarks.
“Our ability to keep this wave in check is in large part to the high vaccination rates and the availability of effective treatments and therapeutics such as Paxlovid and Evusheld,” he added. “Though this wave is expected to be less severe, there are actions we can continue to take to minimize the impact on our health system and protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our friends. The most important message, which we’ve said consistently, is to stay up to date with your COVID vaccinations.”
That will be easier starting tomorrow with everyone 18 and over being eligible for a fourth COVID shot. Until now, fourth shots have been limited to people age 60 and over plus people who are moderately to severely immunocompromised, and residents of long-term care home, retirement home, or Elder Care Lodge and older adults living in other congregate settings. First Nation, Inuit and Métis individuals and their non-Indigenous household members aged 18 and over are also currently eligible.
Moore also announced that they will continue to provide free rapid antigen tests to Ontarians until the end of the year, and they will continue to be available from grocery stores and pharmacies plus workplaces, schools, hospitals, long-term care and retirement homes and other congregate settings.
Many health advocates have been pushing the Ontario government to open up eligibility for a second booster, especially in the face of a summer that has seen COVID-19 cases go up instead of cratering, which has been the trend during the last two COVID summers.
“My biggest issue was just getting the 5 million who are still eligible for the first booster before we expanded to the second and then having a risk-based approach for the second booster dose,” Moore said. “Our targeted approach is really to those 18 to 59 with any medical illness or risk of getting hospitalized, please come forward and get the second booster dose. I hope Ontarians will understand that we did this in a risk-based evidence informed approach with guidance from our Ontario Immunization Advisory Committee.”
As of today, there are 224 confirmed cases in Wellington, Dufferin and Guelph, which includes the 171 new cases confirmed in the last week. Compared to this time last year, there were just 23 new cases of COVID-19 over the three-day weekend, and just 52 active cases region0-wide at the time.
On July 13, 2021, the 7-day moving rate of confirmed cases was just 12.2 per 100,000 and the test positivity rate is 1.8 per cent compared to 45.6 per 100,000 and 14.2 per cent right now in the region. It’s also worth pointing out that testing was more robust last summer than it is right now.
“I think since our PCR testing is not representative of the true actual count, I think you could use a multiplier of three or four times the actual case count. So if we have 1,500 today – and I’m sorry, I don’t have that number right in front of me – we could anticipate at least 5,000 Ontarians are carrying the virus today,” Moore explained.
Of course, the big difference between now and then are the lack of mask mandates, but even without the mandates, Moore says wearing a mask is still a good idea especially if you’re spending any time in the presence of older Ontarians, or our the most vulnerable populations.
“For those who are at increased risk of severe illness COVID-19, particularly those who have not received all their appropriate doses of the vaccine, it is strongly recommended that you continue to wear a mask in indoor public spaces and in spaces where you may encounter people who are especially vulnerable such as hospitals and long term care facilities,” Moore said, “You should continue to expect to wear a mask as the standard of care in those settings.”
Having said that though, Moore added that he will not be asking the government to re-impose previously cancelled mandates.
“I think Ontarians have been prudent and cautious. When I go indoors or take public transit, I see many people my age continuing to wear a mask and I think that’s brilliant,” Moore said. “We’re seeing that the call to arms is working, we went from around 8,000 on average per day in Ontario to 16,000 people immunized yesterday, and I absolutely hope and anticipate that we’ll we’ll be seeing those numbers increase day-by-day in the coming weeks.”
Moore said that people who got their last COVID vaccine shot back in December or January should strongly consider getting a booster shot now, but there is another complication. A new bivalent version of the vaccine is expected to come out later this fall, and it will likely contain some added protections against Omicron and its various subvariants, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the details.
“We’re waiting for guidance from the WHO, Health Canada, and the Public Health Agency of Canada to ascertain what will be the components of the fall vaccine, and which of the Omicron strains will be the core components,” Moore said. “If it’s going to be a BA.4 or BA.5, I anticipate they’ll have to ramp up production and it could be somewhat delayed, so that might be November or December.
“Hence, with that lack of clarity, we’ve opened up the eligibility for 18 to 59 to continue to protect Ontarians with a maximum level of protection from this second booster healthy adults,” Moore added.