Ontario expanding faster 2nd vaccine doses for all adults, youth in hot spots

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TORONTO — All adults in Ontario and youth in hot spots for the Delta COVID-19 variant will soon be eligible for accelerated second vaccine doses, the province announced Friday.

Starting Saturday, youth aged 12 to 17 who live in Delta hot spots can book earlier second dose appointments. All adults with a first dose of an mRNA vaccine can schedule accelerated second shots starting Monday.

The province said it's expanding eligibility since 76 per cent of Ontarians have at least one vaccine dose and more than 30 per cent are fully vaccinated.

"Ontario’s vaccine rollout continues to pick up speed, allowing us to provide more second doses ahead of schedule while supporting our communities most at risk," said Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a statement.

Approximately 1.5 million Ontarians will be eligible for an accelerated second dose on Monday, the province said.

Ontario was booking vaccine doses four months apart but has been shortening the interval for various groups based on supply and the risk posed by the more infectious Delta variant. The onus is on individuals, however, to re-book their shots.

Health units covering Durham, Halton, Hamilton, Peel, Porcupine, Simcoe-Muskoka, Toronto, Waterloo, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph and York are designated hot spots for the variant, which is more transmissible and poses greater risk to people with one vaccine dose.

Mobile vaccination teams returned to community and workplace pop-up sites in Durham, Halton, Hamilton, Toronto, Peel and York this week, the province said, and extra staff have been sent to hot spots in Waterloo Region to help speed up first and second shots.

As pandemic indicators improve – Ontario reported 256 new COVID-19 cases and two more deaths Friday – most of the province is set to move ahead with the next step of its economic reopening on Wednesday.

The Delta variant has delayed those plans in Waterloo Region, which will keep current health restrictions in place until at least mid-July.

The northeastern Porcupine health unit, which covers Timmins, Ont., and several northern First Nations, entered the first phase of the province's reopening plan on Friday after a major virus spike kept the region shut down weeks longer than the rest of Ontario.

Ontario's incoming top doctor noted this week that the province is also closely monitoring the pandemic situations in North Bay and Grey Bruce.

An outbreak among inmates at the North Bay Jail recently prompted the Ministry of the Solicitor General to close the facility for 14 days, and transfer 61 inmates to other undisclosed facilities. The ministry is also helping with contact tracing.

A spokesman for the solicitor general said there were 32 positive cases among inmates as of Friday. Andrew Morrison said those infected would receive medical care and be isolated from the rest of the inmate population at their receiving facilities.

"This temporary closure will allow facility staff to self-isolate and reduce the risk of transmission within the community," he said in a statement.

Sara Berghammer, CEO of the John Howard Society of Sudbury, said closing the facility was the right move to control the outbreak.

Volunteers with the agency have not been permitted to enter the North Bay jail to meet with inmates and offer services since the pandemic began, she said, leaving observers without many details about the current situation.

She noted that only approximately 40 per cent of inmates received COVID-19 vaccines when offered this spring, leaving much of population still vulnerable to infection. She said much of the jail population lives with mental health issues and have lacked access to education about COVID-19 and vaccines, which has allowed misinformation to spread.

"That’s something that we that we face when folks are released and they come to our door. We try and encourage them to get vaccinated," Berghammer said in an interview.

The outbreak has also further delayed the agency's hopeful return to the facility to check whether inmates have been able to receive visitors or spend time outside, Berghammer said

"All of those things are probably not occurring," she said. "I understand why, but it really does take a very big toll on someone's mental health, and it can cause a lot of problems when folks then go to be released."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 25, 2021.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

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