Ontario has administered thousands of third COVID doses to the immunocompromised

TORONTO — Ontario has administered thousands of third doses of COVID-19 vaccine to some of the province's most vulnerable residents and will continue to do so despite the World Health Organization calling for a moratorium on the practice.

The global public health agency this week urged vaccine-rich countries to stop offering third doses for the rest of the year so the shots can be diverted to under-vaccinated countries.

"Based on the recommendation of the chief medical officer of health and health experts, Ontario is offering third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to those at highest risk, providing them with an extra layer of protection against the Delta variant," said Alexandra Hilkene, a spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott.

The added shots offer extra protection against COVID-19 to immunocompromised patients, such as transplant recipients, people receiving treatment for blood cancers, and those who have received an anti-CD20 agent.

The COVID-19 vaccine is not as effective in those people, she said, and a third dose helps level the playing field for them.

"Evidence also shows that several months after receiving two COVID-19 vaccine doses, the immune response in residents who live in long-term care homes wanes significantly compared to the general population," Hilkene said.

She said the province had administered more than 22,000 such doses as of Thursday night.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunizations on Friday recommended that people who are moderately or severely immunocompromised get a course of three shots of vaccine.

"This is not unusual for immunocompromised groups, where we often recommend different vaccine schedules to help them achieve better protection," Dr. Shelley Deeks, committee chair, said in a statement.

"This is different from a booster dose, which would be used to boost an immune response that has waned over time."

The panel is still studying the need for third doses in other groups, including long-term care residents.

The advice comes as the fourth wave of the pandemic continues roiling Ontario.

The province reported 848 new cases of COVID-19 Friday and five deaths linked to the virus.

Elliott said 659 of those infections were in people who are not fully vaccinated or whose vaccination status is unknown.

She said 361 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, with 331 of them not fully vaccinated. Of those, she said, 177 people were in intensive care because of the virus, with only 14 of those cases in fully vaccinated individuals.

The Ministry of Health said that 84.1 per cent of Ontarians over the age of 12 have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, while 77.7 per cent have two doses.

A total of 21,098,125 vaccine doses have been administered in Ontario.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 10, 2021.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press

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