A new group of the northwestern Ontario community is now eligible for an early second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, ahead of the typical four-month wait.

On May 10, the provincial government announced First Nations, Inuit and Metis residents, emergency responders, healthcare workers at-risk of contracting COVID-19 and essential caregivers of Long-Term Care Home residents would all become eligible for an early second dose of the vaccine by May 14, with more details to be provided.

Ontario said the move was made possible due to a recent increase in their vaccine supplies. But despite a promised follow-up, no further announcement has been made by the provincial government.

However, those residents and more are now able to book their early second dose of the vaccine through the Northwestern Health Unit, announced during their weekly conference with regional media members on May 18.

“The provincial system currently does not allow bookings of the second dose appointment. So we have another system for booking second doses. It does require contacting the Northwestern Health Unit, explained Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kit Young Hoon.

If you are eligible for the early second dose, with more eligibility information below, you’re asked to call the NWHU’s hotline at 1-866-468-2240. You will be asked for your Ontario Health Card, and may have to cancel any previously-booked appointments through Ontario’s vaccine appointment system.

As well as Indigenous, Metis and Inuit community members and those they live with, and those with the health conditions listed below, the following healthcare workers and emergency responders are also now able to book their second shot, unless they are being immunized through their employer:

- All hospital and acute care staff in front-line roles with COVID-19 patients and/or with a high-risk of exposure to COVID-19, including nurses and personal support workers and those performing aerosol-generating procedures such as critical care units, emergency departments, COVID-19 medical units, code blue teams, rapid response teams, and general internal medicine and other specialists involved in the direct care of COVID-19 positive patients.

- All patient-facing healthcare working involved in the COVID-19 response, such as COVID-19 specimen collection centres, teams supporting outbreak response such as IPAC teams, inspectors in the patient environment, redeployed healthcare workers supporting outbreaks, COVID-19 vaccine clinics, mobile immunization teams, mobile testing teams, COVID-19 isolation centres, COVID-19 laboratory services, and current members of Ontario’s Emergency Medical Assistance Team.

- Medical first responders such as staff with Ornge, paramedics, firefighters providing medical first response as part of their regular duties, and police and special constables providing medical first response as part of their regular duties.

- Community healthcare workers serving specialized populations including needle exchange programs and supervised consumption and treatment services, Indigenous healthcare service providers, Aboriginal health access centres, Indigenous community health centres, Indigenous primary care teams and Indigenous Nurse Practitioner-led clinics.

- Long-term care home and retirement home healthcare workers, including nurses, personal support workers and essential caregivers.

- Individuals working in community health centres serving disproportionately affected communities and/or communities experiencing the highest-burden of health, social and economic impacts from COVID-19.

- Critical healthcare workers in remote and hard to access communities.

- Home and community healthcare workers, including nurses and personal support workers caring for recipients of chronic home-care and seniors in congregate living facilities or providing hands-on care to COVID-19 patients in the community.

Ontario has included a new group of individuals that can book their early second shot since their initial announcement on May 10. Those with the following health conditions are now eligible:

- Transplant recipients,
- Those undergoing hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis in the authorized age groups,
- Malignant hematological disorders and non-hematologic malignant solid tumours receiving active treatment such as chemotherapy, targeted therapies and immunotherapy, excluding those receiving only hormonal or radiation therapy.

The NWHU notes they are still awaiting further direction on administering second doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, after the announcement that Ontario would be stopping administering first doses of the vaccine on May 11.

As it stands, intervals between vaccine doses for the majority of the population are currently about four months, which was recommended by the National Advisory Committee of Immunization to offer more first doses to more residents, before fully vaccinating the most at-risk.

But the Ministry of Health has said they may be able to shorten the four-month interval, potentially leading to a timeline closer to the 28-day intervals recommended by Pfizer and Moderna, as they receive additional vaccines from the federal government.

The Public Health Agency of Canada’s new report, COVID-19: Life after vaccination, states if 75 percent of those eligible for vaccines have one dose and 20 percent have a second dose by the summer, restrictions can start to lift based on conditions in your area – with masking and social distancing.

But by the fall, if 75 percent of those eligible for vaccines have received both doses, your local public health unit will be able to lift more measures which would include more indoor activities with those outside of your household – like colleges, sports and gatherings – with masking and social distancing.

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The provincial and federal governments both say they’re aiming to have all willing adults fully immunized by the end of September.

Everyone is asked to continue following all public health measures and to stay home, self-isolate, get tested and remain in isolation until your test results are known. You’re reminded you are still vulnerable after receiving one or both doses of your COVID-19 vaccine.

Further information on booking your COVID-19 vaccine can be found HERE.