Ontario offering fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose to long-term care residents, mandating booster for staff

Ontario will begin offering long-term care residents a fourth dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine three months after their third shot.

The province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore made the announcement on Thursday afternoon, saying the decision was made following recommendations from the Ontario Immunization Advisory Committee.

“Many of these individuals are now likely becoming increasingly more susceptible to COVID-19 infection due to waning immunity from their previous doses,” Moore said.

The fourth dose will be made available to residents of long-term care homes, retirement homes, Elder Care Lodges and other congregate care settings. Individuals must wait three months, or 84 days, between doses.

The province will also be mandating third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for all staff, students, volunteers, caregivers and support workers in long-term care settings. Workers have until Jan. 28, 2022 to get the booster, if eligible.

“As of December 13, 2021, all staff had to be fully vaccinated to work in long-term care homes, unless they have a valid medical exemption,” the province said in a news release. “To date, nearly 47 per cent of eligible staff and nearly 86 per cent of eligible residents have received their third dose booster.”

Visitors will also have to provide proof of all three doses in order to enter a long-term care home once the temporary pause on general visitors is lifted.

Two days ago the province announced it would be banning general visitors in long-term care and will be prohibiting residents from leaving on day absences for social purposes. Two designated caregivers per person may continue to enter the home.

As of Thursday, there are 136 long-term care and retirement homes with active COVID-19 outbreaks.

Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips said in a statement that offering a fourth shot and mandating boosters was “an important step” towards protecting long-term care staff and residents amid rising COVID-19 cases. He also urged everyone to get the vaccine as soon as they are eligible. 

The CEO of Ontario’s Long Term Care Association said they welcome the new provincial policies meant to help curb the spread of Omicron, addint that mandatory vaccination and rigorous testing protocols will help reduce staffing losses to the virus.

These are important actions responding to the increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant focused on protecting residents, and the staff, students, volunteers, caregivers and support workers who provide care and support for their well-being,” Donna Duncan said in a statement.

Dr. Amit Arya, a palliative care physician, long-term care advocate, also voiced support for prioritizing long-term care residents and staff when it comes to COVID-19 vaccination, but that without stricter measures to curb community transmission it won’t make much difference.

“The issue is, once again, if you have so much community transmission, it’s going to just infect everyone and a long-term care facility is not on a separate island,” he said.

“So, what that means is we need better protection on the ground, which means N95 mask mandated for all essential caregivers and health workers in long-term care. It means more rapid testing. Simply doing rapid testing twice a week in long-term care is not enough.”

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