A virologist says if Ontario adopts the federal government's expert panel recommendation to delay booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines, it will allow the city of Ottawa to open up at a faster rate.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) said delaying booster shots by about four months will allow about 80 per cent of the population 16 and older to be vaccinated by the end of June.
Earl Brown, professor emeritus of virology at the University of Ottawa, said that will change the math for public health officials when they consider lockdown-style measures.
"There's fairly strong protection against disease as well as spread, so it will change the way we work as a society and let us open up at a faster rate," he said.
However, Brown said the immunization program will have to continue so people can have the more "mature" immune response that comes with the booster.
"It won't be over by June, but we'll have good protection in the majority of the population by June," Brown said.
He said the NACI review shows the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZaneca-Oxford vaccines are highly effective at reducing hospitalization and death, one month after the first shot.
Doubling pace of first shots
The City of Ottawa's vaccination task force says it is waiting for direction from the province to follow the latest NACI recommendation. The task force chair says the recommendation is welcome news.
"It would have a significant positive impact. I'm actually quite excited to hear this recommendation," said Anthony Di Monte, general manager of emergency and protective services, in an interview on CBC's Ottawa Morning.
Di Monte says the change could double the number of people getting their first shot in a given week. Right now between 5,000 and 6,000 doses are put aside from each week's shipment of vaccine to administer booster shots, he said.
"If this happens — and we're waiting four months now — 10,000 doses a week will arrive and we'll be able to put that in 10,000 new arms every week," he said.
Di Monte said he expects the implementation will likely be gradual enough that people who already have appointments for their boosters can get them without delay.
He said city staff would be ready to open additional clinics in 72 hours if more doses become available.