TORONTO — Today, Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, issued the following statement on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the province:
“Effective today, Ontario will be pausing the rollout and administration of first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine at this time.
In a media release, the Province outlined that the decision was made out of an abundance of caution due to an observed increase in the rare blood clotting condition, known as vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT), linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine. As of May 8, 651,012 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were administered with a rate of VITT of 0.9 per 100,000 doses administered. 202,873 doses of the COVISHIELD vaccine were administered with a rate of VITT of 1 per 100,000 doses administered. However, over last few days, there have been increased reports of VITT, with a rate of 1.7 per 100,000 doses administered. In collaboration with health experts at Public Health Ontario, the Science Advisory Table and the Province's federal, provincial and territorial partners, provincial officials are reviewing the data to consider options for the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for second doses and more broadly moving forward.
The Province pointed out that data from the UK points to a much-reduced risk of VITT in second doses of AstraZeneca and anticipates that it will be able to provide more guidance in advance of people’s needing to receive their second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine. No dates have yet been established.
The decision to pause, according to the media release, is also based on the increased and reliable supply of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines and the downward trend in cases. The Province is also consulting the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) to provide direction on the interchangeability of COVID-19 vaccines whereby individuals may be able to receive doses of two different vaccines.
All Ontarians are encouraged to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible.
Ontario Continues to Expand Booking Eligibility for COVID-19 Vaccines to More Ontarians
In another media release, the Province also stated that a stable and reliable increase in vaccine supply to Ontario is enabling the government to further expand eligibility to book a COVID-19 vaccine appointment throughout the week of May 10, 2021.
As of Tuesday, May 11, 2021 at 8:00 a.m., individuals with at-risk health conditions such as dementia, diabetes and sickle cell disease, as well as Group Two of people who cannot work from home including grocery store, restaurant and transportation workers will be eligible to book an appointment to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
In addition, effective Thursday, May 13, 2021, at 8:00 a.m., individuals turning 40 and over in 2021 in non-hot spot communities will also be eligible to book an appointment to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at a mass immunization clinic. Eligible individuals can schedule an appointment through the provincial booking system, or directly through public health units that use their own booking system. This builds upon the eligibility of those aged 18 and over in hot spot areas and is aligned with the rollout announced on May 2, 2021.
“With a stable and predictable supply of vaccines, Ontario’s vaccine rollout continues to pick up speed, and we are on track to administer a first dose to 65 per cent of Ontario adults by the end of May,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “As we continue to vaccinate even more Ontarians, we remain focused on protecting those most at risk, and I want to thank all of our frontline health care workers for their tireless work each day to protect the health and safety of Ontarians."
To make it easier than ever to get vaccinated, the province has expanded use of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to pharmacies in hot spot areas. Nearly 80 pharmacy locations are offering the Pfizer vaccine in Toronto and Peel, and up to 60 pharmacies are offering the Moderna vaccine in Durham, Hamilton, Ottawa, Windsor-Essex and York regions to individuals aged 18 and over. Further expansion of pharmacy locations offering COVID-19 vaccines will continue through May. The latest information for KFL&A region is listed on its website.
In addition, due to increased vaccine supply the Province stated that it is adding high-risk health care workers, dialysis patients, and all First Nations, Inuit and Métis individuals to the list of those eligible to book their appointment to receive a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine earlier than the extended four-month interval. These groups face a greater risk of contracting and suffering serious illness from COVID-19. Eligibility for booking will begin by the end of the week of May 10, 2021 and booking details will be provided in the coming days.
Ontario continues to expand eligibility and access at mass immunization clinics, hospital clinics and pharmacies, and continues to conduct employer-based and community-based pop-up clinics. The province is on track to have administered first doses to 65 per cent of Ontarians aged 18 and over by the end of May.
“Ontario is responding to an increase in vaccine supply by ramping up its rollout of COVID-19 vaccines and expanding eligibility,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones. “While these latest steps forward are encouraging, we must continue to do all we can to save lives and reduce hospitalization by staying home and following public health measures.”
Ontarians who are now eligible to book their vaccine appointment are asked to be patient, as it could take time to receive their vaccine. Public health units are responsible for managing and overseeing the distribution and administration of vaccines for their entire region, and public health units may have different vaccine administration rates based on local context.