TORONTO — Ontarians eager to get their fourth COVID-19 vaccinations lined up outside clinics and waited in online queues on Thursday as the province opened access for the shots to all adults.
As of 8 a.m., adults aged 18 to 59 who received their first booster at least five months prior could book their next shot through the province's online portal. Appointments were also available through pharmacies, public health unit booking systems and at walk-in clinics.
A city-run immunization clinic in downtown Toronto offering COVID-19 and monkeypox vaccinations saw people trickling in every few minutes on Thursday afternoon.
Samuel Lapidus, 44, was in the queue for his fourth COVID-19 shot. He said he was getting the second booster for his health, and because he sees it as his civic responsibility.
"Just doing my part to keep Toronto safe, Canada safe,” he said.
Actor Joe Doran, 59, said he was getting his second booster because the entertainment industry has strict COVID-19 protocols, and he wants to ensure he has maximum protection against the virus for himself and his colleagues.
“I was very pleased to be able to get an appointment so quickly, and I came down here and was processed rapidly by friendly, courteous people. It was a very positive experience,” Doran said outside the clinic.
He said he's also concerned about the BA.5 Omicron variant, currently driving a seventh wave of infections in Ontario.
"I think we all need to take the responsibility to be cautious about it,” he said. “It’s a challenging time. We’ve got beautiful weather, we want to be outside, we want to congregate with each other, but we have to be very wary of that. That’s another reason I made sure I was vaccinated."
Elsewhere in the province, some residents were keen to book right away and signed on as soon as bookings opened.
Emily Clark, a public health worker in Hamilton, secured appointments next week for herself and her husband.
"It was no big deal," said Clark, who has elderly family members and an unvaccinated four-year-old.
"We’ve been fortunate enough to avoid (COVID-19) so far, we really just want to make sure that we’re as protected as we can be."
But not everyone's online experience was smooth.
Sarah Ojamae, a freelance content writer living in Toronto, said she tried unsuccessfully book an appointment at 8 a.m. on Thursday, but said the portal repeatedly told her she was ineligible to book a fourth dose after answering a number of screening questions.
Others who had difficulties booking through the portal said they were eventually able to snag appointments at pharmacies or through other channels.
Health Ministry spokesperson W.D. Lighthall said people should clear their web browser cache and try again if they are experiencing technical issues while booking, or call the provincial vaccine contact centre to make an appointment.
Some health units across the province reported busy clinics not long after appointments opened to all adults and have ramped up their hours of operation to try to meet the demand.
The Middlesex-London Health Unit tweeted to say timecards were distributed to manage long lines at a shopping mall vaccination clinic in London, Ont., which was fully booked for the day by 1:45 p.m.
In North Bay, Ont., the health unit covering the region said it was extending the hours at a Friday walk-in vaccination clinic and encouraged people eligible for second boosters to attend. Peterborough Public Health said it was adding additional COVID-19 vaccination appointments for Thursday and Friday due to high demand.
Until Thursday, second boosters – or fourth doses – were only available to immunocompromised people, those aged 60 and older, and Indigenous adults.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore announced the expanded eligibility on Wednesday, but has signalled that young people who don't have underlying health conditions may choose to wait for the fall, when it's hoped that vaccines specifically targeting the Omicron variant will become available.
He said that Ontarians should speak with their health-care provider about whether a fourth dose is right for them, and said it's recommended that people wait at least three months after a COVID-19 infection to get a booster shot.
Other public health officials tried to offer clarity on Thursday for people trying to decide whether to take the fourth shot.
Dr. Thomas Piggott, medical officer of health for Peterborough Public Health, shared a chart on social media detailing considerations for healthy people between 18 and 59, noting that there "is some confusion" on whether to get a fourth dose immediately.
Factors that favour taking the shot now, according to Piggott's chart, include whether people are at higher risk of exposure, have vulnerable close contacts, if they want immediate protection and the uncertain timeline for the arrival of bivalent vaccines.
His chart also listed factors that favour waiting for the fourth dose, such as whether someone is lower risk for severe disease or wants to wait for stronger protection later.
Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and associate professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Ottawa, said he anticipates uptake for fourth shots will be low considering relatively few eligible adults received third COVID-19 shots, compared with the initial two-dose rollout.
Deonandan said he'd like to see Ontario roll out a renewed vaccination push that also aims to have more people vaccinated with third doses.
He added that clearer messaging about the benefits of vaccination would be helpful, as many people don't watch Moore's press conferences, and those who do could find them confusing.
"Simplifying the messaging would be very, very useful here," he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 14, 2022.
Tyler Griffin and Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press