London-area mass clinics can deal with onslaught of fourth COVID dose: prime physician

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People aged 60 and over who are at least three months after their third COVID shot can book a fourth dose from 8am Thursday, the Middlesex-London Health Unit said on Wednesday.

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07.04.2022April 7, 20224 minutes read (file photo)

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Mass vaccination clinics in the London area can treat the over-60s who are newly eligible for fourth doses of COVID-19 vaccine, the city’s top doctor said, as the province’s wastewater monitor indicated virus activity is now nearly as high as it was during the peak in January.

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People aged 60 and over who are at least three months after their third COVID shot can book a fourth dose from 8am Thursday, the Middlesex-London Health Unit said on Wednesday.

Although three months is the minimum, Ontario recommends a five-month interval.

“This vaccine has been a tremendous gift to . . . its ability to protect against serious consequences. But as with many vaccines, that protection wears off over the months,” health officer Alex Summers said on Wednesday.

“Now for some people we are getting to the point where . . . Given the high prevalence of COVID in the community, it’s time for another round.”

The health department expects bookings to pick up over the next few days but is confident it can meet demand even with reduced days at its Western Fair District Agriplex and Mt Brydges mass vaccination clinics, Summers said.

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In 2016, around 115,000 people aged 60 and over lived in the London metropolitan area, including St Thomas and parts of Middlesex and Elgin counties. People aged 70 and over were eligible for third-dose booster shots in early November, and those over 50 could book in mid-December.

Third-dose booster intake in people 12 years and older in London and Middlesex County has plateaued at about 55 percent. Younger cohorts have responded less to the booster campaign, while third-dose uptake for area residents over 70 is over 80 percent.

Summers expects significant uptake of the fourth dose in the oldest age groups, but expects some decline with each round of vaccination. “(But) rising case numbers could lead to more people being boosted in younger age cohorts.”

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First Nations, Inuit and Métis and their non-Indigenous household members 18 and older are also eligible for fourth doses on Thursday.

Though Summers said it’s too early to say if fourth cans will open for people under the age of 60 in the coming weeks, expect an additional booster to be introduced later this year for the general population.

Health Secretary Christine Elliott urged beneficiaries to receive a fourth dose to boost their immunity to COVID.

“That’s going to be really important to reduce the number of people who end up in hospital because when you’re fully immunized you have better protection,” she said Wednesday. “If you contract COVID you are far less likely to need to stay in hospital. We will conduct a wide public notice and public awareness campaign about it.”

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Third adult doses have been available since December, but uptake has stalled at about 60 percent – higher in older recipients. Public health experts have said Ontario should do more to encourage residents to get boosters. Ontario’s chief medical officer of health has not given a public briefing since March 9.

Fourth doses have already been made available to residents of long-term care and retirement homes, as well as to the immunocompromised in Ontario.

The National Advisory Committee on Vaccinations this week recommended provinces to prioritize people aged 80 and older and long-term care residents for fourth vaccinations, and strongly recommended them for those aged 70 to 79.

The broader rollout of the fourth dose comes as wastewater data released by Ontario’s COVID science advisers suggests infections in the province are nearly as high as they were when the Omicron variant peaked in early January.

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Ontario reported 3,444 new cases on Wednesday, but the true level is likely much higher due to limited access to PCR tests. Chief Medical Officer of Health Kieran Moore said the actual daily case count is about 10 times the official report.

The Middlesex-London Health Unit on Wednesday reported 152 new COVID cases and one other death, a man in his 70s with no connection to a retirement or care home.

The London Health Sciences Center reported 38 COVID patients in hospital on Wednesday, up from 27 on March 28. Five or fewer were in intensive care and 21 in hospital for other reasons but tested positive for the virus.

The number of people with COVID in hospitals in Ontario reached 1,074 on Wednesday, up almost 40 percent from a week earlier.

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Premier Doug Ford, who has described the surge in cases and hospitalizations as “a small increase,” denied on Wednesday that he had “downplayed” the situation.

“We have seen that the intensive care unit has actually stabilized,” he said. “160 people are in ICU and (as far as I know) they’ve been there for a while.”

Ontario on Wednesday reported 168 COVID patients in the ICU with similar numbers for the past week.

“I’m very, very confident as we see the upside a bit that we knew this was coming . . . we can handle it. We have the resources, we have the capabilities and we’re going to get through this,” Ford said.

Ford also defended Moore’s lack of public communication during the sixth wave of the pandemic.

“DR. Moore is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. He never rests . . .” said the Prime Minister. “I’m his number one fan.”

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