TORONTO -- More Ontarians will be able to book an appointment to receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot as soon as this weekend as the province expands its eligibility for third doses.

According to documents released on Wednesday, the government said that certain groups can start booking appointments starting at 8 a.m. Saturday as long as they received their second dose at least six months ago. Those groups include:

  • Residents over the age of 70
  • Health-care workers, and designated essential caregivers in congregate settings
  • Individuals who received a complete series of a viral vector vaccine i.e. two doses of AstraZeneca or one dose of Janssen
  • First Nation, Inuit, and Metis adults and their non-Indigenous household members

The new eligibility guidelines are in line with recommendations made by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) last week. Those eligible for a booster shot will receive a dose of an mRNA vaccine, like Pfizer or Moderna, regardless of which type of vaccine they received in their first series.

Speaking to reporters at Queen’s Park on Wednesday, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore predicted that COVID-19 will likely become an “annual winter virus” in the years to come as he highlighted the importance of vaccination.

“There is no escaping this virus, you either are going to get it naturally through exposure—and given that it can have such serious and significant outcomes associated with it, that is absolutely not our preference,” Moore said.

“Our preference is that you use the safe and effective vaccines to protect yourself, your community, your loved ones and that will have the least impact on you as an individual but also on our health system.”

While the booster shots are not mandatory, government officials have said that a third jab adds an “extra layer of protection” against COVID-19 and its variants.

Looking ahead to 2022, the government said that it plans to open up eligibility for booster shots to all Ontarians starting in January, pending clinical information. The further expansion of booster shot eligibility for the general population will be based on age and risk, with an interval of six to eight months from the second dose, according to the province.

Additionally, the Ontario government said it is working with public health units across the province to prepare to vaccinate children between the ages of five and 11 as it awaits approval from Health Canada.

Select vulnerable groups have been eligible to receive a third shot in Ontario since August, including transplant recipients and residents of “high-risk congregate settings” like long-term care homes and First Nations elder care lodges.

That eligibility was extended further in September to include patients undergoing active treatment for solid tumors and those with moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency and other vulnerable populations.

As it stands, 88.3 per cent of eligible Ontarians have one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 84.7 per cent have two doses and are considered to be fully vaccinated.

Wednesday’s announcement means that 2.75 million more Ontarians will be able to get the booster shot. Some 250,000 residents are already eligible and more than 65 per cent have received all three doses.

HOW TO BOOK YOUR THIRD DOSE IN ONTARIO

Eligible residents can book their shot through the Ontario vaccine portal or by calling the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre at 1-833-943-3900. Bookings can also be made directly through public health units that use their own booking systems, through Indigenous-led vaccination clinics, select pharmacies, and primary care settings, according to the government.

With files from the Canadian Press, CTV News Toronto’s Abby Neufeld and Sean Davidson