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Ontario opens bivalent COVID-19 booster appointments to everyone 12 and over starting Monday, flu shots start Nov. 1
Oct. 18, 2022

Ontarians over 12 looking for better protection against COVID-19 can get a Pfizer bivalent vaccination that’s updated for the latest variants starting Monday -- and flu shots begin for the general public Nov. 1.

Health Minister Sylvia Jones is urging Ontarians to get the jabs as health officials predict a resurgence of the flu after two years of lockdowns and masking during the pandemic, which suppressed the virus.

“The colder weather is here which means an increase in respiratory illnesses,” Jones said in a statement Thursday.

Pfizer’s latest offering is a bivalent vaccine that includes protection against the dominant BA.4 and BA.5 strains of Omicron in addition to original COVID-19. It follows bivalent Moderna boosters that have been available for several weeks, which offer added protection against the first Omicron strain that raced through the province last winter and the two latter strains. They will continue to be available.

The shots come as the province braces for higher fall and winter demand in hospitals already stressed by heavier patient loads and staff shortages, while colder weather pushes more activities indoors where it is easier for illness to spread.

Ontario is hoping to boost vaccination rates to ease the strain on hospitals.

While 80 per cent of the population -- 12.2 million people -- has had the primary series of two COVID-19 vaccinations, barely 50 per cent have gone on to get one booster shot and just under 15 per cent or 2.25 million people have had two booster shots.

“Getting vaccinated remains the best defence against the flu and COVID-19 to help keep Ontarians healthy and out of hospitals,” Jones said. “This will also ensure the province can continue its efforts to keep Ontario and its businesses open.”

A leaked report on hospital emergency room statistics, obtained by the Liberals, found that the number of patients waiting in hospital emergency rooms for beds averaged 884 people daily in August -- up 53 per cent from the same month last year. The Hospital for Sick Children said on the weekend its intensive care unit reached full capacity.

Ontario’s chief medical officer Dr. Kieran Moore acknowledged Thursday that “a quite complex and difficult winter” is looming.

“COVID is not going away, it’s a formidable foe … we’re seeing a rise in cases,” he said on CP24, noting 139 people are critically ill with the virus in hospital intensive care units.

Moore advised people to mask in “high-risk” indoor public settings and said an “aggressive” promotional campaign for vaccinations is coming.

The government can only blame itself for the lagging rates of COVID-19 booster shots, said Liberal MPP Dr. Adil Shamji (Don Valley East), an emergency room physician.

“The vaccination campaign is thoroughly underwhelming,” he told a news conference earlier this week on the hospital emergency room crunch.

To get the new Pfizer bivalent booster shot, people must have received their primary series of vaccinations. Most Ontarians should get the bivalent booster shot six months after their last shot, health officials say, although the shots can be given after three months, particularly for those at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

Appointments can be booked online through the provincial vaccination portal, local health units or at 1-833-943-3900.

Flu shots will be available at doctor’s offices, local health units and in participating pharmacies. Some are already booking appointments. Flu shots can be given at the same time as COVID-19 vaccinations, but a two-week interval is recommended for children aged six months to five years.