Some doctors are calling on Ontario to allow all adults to get a second booster of a COVID-19 vaccine this summer, something that the province is currently limiting to only a portion of the population.
Around 7.4 million Ontarians have received one booster, and nearly 90 per cent of those shots were administered at least five months ago, according to Public Health Ontario data.
Studies have shown the COVID-19 boosters begin to lose some effectiveness four months after being administered, leading to growing calls for Ontario to widen eligibility for a second booster, equivalent to a fourth dose of vaccine.
“We know that the protection provided by those vaccines has been effective in reducing serious illness and death, but it’s waning,” said Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, a family physician in Ottawa.
Ontario is currently limiting fourth doses to people over age 60, as well as adults of any age who are Indigenous, living in long-term care, or immunocompromised. About 1.4 million people qualify, leaving roughly six million people who had a booster last winter ineligible to get another shot now.
CBC News asked the Ministry of Health last week how many vaccine doses Ontario currently has in stock, but officials did not provide an answer.
Next door in Quebec, all adults became eligible for fourth doses in May.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) said last week that the provinces should offer a booster shot this fall to all people at high risk of severe disease from COVID-19 infection, regardless of how many boosters they’ve previously received.
That recommendation applies to everyone age 65 and older. NACI said people age 12 to 64 “may be offered” additional doses in the fall.
There are no indications that Ontario plans to change its policy on fourth-dose eligibility this summer.
“We are reviewing NACI’s most recent guidance and will be providing details for fall booster shots over the coming weeks,” said a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health in an email to CBC News.
That doesn’t satisfy Kaplan-Myrth.
“Ontario is kind of saying, ‘Just wait, we’ll give you something in the fall.’ But that’s not good enough when it’s already past time for people to have boosters now,” she said in an interview with CBC News.
Dr. Steve Flindall, an emergency room physician in the Greater Toronto Area, is also advocating for the province to open up the extra booster to all adults.
“The time to offer fourth doses to prevent further problems down the road is now,” Flindall told CBC News.
He said he’s concerned that a longer gap between boosters will mean people mount a less robust immune response.
“This leaves many vulnerable individuals exposed to severe illness, not to mention the tenuous staffing levels of health-care workers,” said Flindall.
He and Kaplan-Myrth point out that the people under 60 who are not eligible for a fourth dose are currently more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 than older people because they are in the workforce, with those in essential front-line jobs at the greatest risk.
“It’s actually unconscionable to expect doctors and nurses and other health-care workers to be in a situation where we no longer have protection,” said Kaplan-Myrth.
She believes much of the current vaccine supply will pass its expiration date before fall.
“We’re talking probably tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of doses that are going to just go in the garbage,” she said.
“There’s no medical rationale for withholding the vaccines. It’s wasteful to say no.”