Ontario unveils new details about who will become eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in Phase 2
TORONTO -- Adults over 50 living in COVID-19 hotspot neighbourhoods, various frontline workers, and those with a wide range of health conditions will soon qualify to receive a vaccine as Ontario prepares to roll out Phase 2 of its vaccine plan.
A new document released by the province Tuesday evening lays out exactly who will be eligible once Phase 2 officially begins in April. The document includes some modifications to the original plan and provides some more detail about who will be eligible.
One of the changes under the revised guidelines provided from the province is that adults over 50 in certain hotspot neighbourhoods will be eligible in Phase 2.
Most public health units within the GTA have been acknowledged by the province to contain hotspot areas with increased COVID-19 transmission.
In Toronto, public health officials have identified the Northwest part of the city and certain parts of Scarborough as areas where COVID-19 transmission has been high.
The province says that adults living in hotspot areas should be vaccinated, starting with the oldest and working down to those who are 50 and over.
Adults 50+ in the highest risk communities will be offered vaccines in April while those in the remaining hotspot communities will be offered vaccines in May.
Those with health conditions included
The new guidelines also spell out exactly what sort of conditions will qualify people for a vaccine under Phase 2. Those with health conditions are divided into three groups: highest risk, high risk, and at-risk.
Those in the highest risk category will be prioritized first. They include organ transplant recipients, certain stem cell recipients, those with neurological diseases in which respiratory function may be compromised, those with haematological cancers, and those with kidney disease.
The next highest priority group includes those who are obese, those receiving treatments causing immunosuppression, and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The third group includes a wide range of conditions, including stroke, autoimmune disorders, diabetes, respiratory diseases, dementia, all other types of cancer, heart disease, hypertension with end organ damage, mental disorders, substance use disorders, sickle cell disease, pregnancy, immunocompromising health conditions, liver disease, spleen problems, thalassemia, and disabilities requiring direct support care in the community.
The province says the identified health conditions are those which have been found to increase the risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 infection.
The highest risk group and their caregivers will be offered a vaccine at the start of April, followed by the next group in late April and the third group in mid-May.
Ontario health officials are also acknowledging that the province’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout will move at a different pace depending on which area people live in.
In the guidance document, the province says that it is “trying to ensure provincial consistency while maintaining regional and local flexibility to respond to local and regional contacts and data.”
Provincial officials also acknowledge that "it is likely that vaccination of Phase 2 populations will begin before all Phase 1 populations have been offered the first dose of vaccine, and that there will be overlap of the end of Phase 1 in the beginning of Phase 2.”
Anyone who became eligible in Phase 1 will continue to be eligible in Phase 2 and beyond.
The document reflects the reality that is already unfolding on the ground. Some public health units have already moved on to start vaccinating those who are 70 and over, despite provincial guidelines indicating that age group will only start receiving vaccines in late April.
And despite the fact that the guidance document still indicates that those 75 and over will become eligible at the start of April, the province opened vaccine bookings to all those 75 and over on Monday.
Many essential workers included
Broadly, adults between 60 and 79, those living in high-risk congregate settings and essential workers who cannot work from home are also among those included in Phase 2.
The first group of workers includes education workers, school bus drivers, food manufacturing workers and others.
The second group includes front-facing government workers, essential retail workers, restaurant workers, social workers, court workers, public transit workers and others.
A full list of those who are eligible is posted on the province’s website.
Phase 2 officially runs from April to July and will include 9 million people, according to the provincial plan.
Phase 3, where any adult below 59 years old can get a shot, is officially set to begin in July.
However officials have said that the program is expected to progress more quickly, with vaccines expected to arrive in larger quantities and with the adoption of a policy spacing out first and second doses four months apart.