More people to be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots

Ontario is expanding the list of who can get a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health announced Thursday.

Dr. Keiran Moore said, based on recommendations by the National Advisory Committee, eligibility for booster doses has recently been expanded to all retirement homes, not just high-risk homes.

This also includes senior living centres and other congregate settings such as assisted living facilities, chronic care hospitals and congregate seniors apartment buildings.

In addition, the list of immunosuppressant medications that qualify a person to get a booster shot has been expanded and it will now be easier for anyone on these medications to get the third shot.

A referral from a doctor will no longer be necessary and a prescription or medication bottle can be presented at the vaccine site as proof of eligibility.

Dr. Moore said that two doses of the vaccine provide strong protection against infection and severe illness, but booster doses are offered to those with highest risk of contracting COVID-19 to provide sufficient protection “based on waning immune response to vaccines and increased risk of COVId-19 infection.”

“Waning immunity happens to some extent with all vaccines, but that does not mean that the initial vaccine didn’t work or that the vaccines stopped working completely,” Dr. Moore explained. “Many vaccines require boosters. Take for example, the tetanus or diphtheria shots and as with our annual flu shots — although the formulation changes year-over-year with new strains of the virus, the immune response wanes between seasons so we require annual shots to provide protection.”

Dr. Moore said the long-term strategy to fight COVID-19 will continue to evolve, which may include booster doses or reformulation of the vaccines. The strategy is informed by evidence on the effectiveness and safety of vaccine doses and the evolution of the virus itself.

“What we know from worldwide data … is that the vaccines continue to be extremely safe and effective. They offer a significant level of protection and prevent the likelihood of serious illness and hospitalization even after several months,” said Dr. Moore.

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