Omicron vaccination

Increasing vaccinations is not enough to slow Omicron wave: Science Advisory

Increasing vaccinations is not enough to slow the Omicron wave, according to a new report released on Thursday by the Ontario Science Advisory. The Advisory noted that circuit breakers with strong additional public health measures (at least 50% fewer contacts) and strong booster campaigns (250,000 per day) could blunt the wave, while high-quality masks, physical distancing indoors, improved ventilation, and increased access to rapid testing can help buy time for boosters to take effect and keep schools open.

“This will likely be the hardest wave of the pandemic,” Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, stated at a press conference on Thursday.

The advisory noted that although vaccines are less effective against Omicron, boosters can substantially increase protection—even two doses can likely provide strong protection against severe illness. The risk of severe illness is dramatically higher in the unvaccinated, the advisory added.

According to the key report findings, the Omicron variant will shortly become the dominant variant in Ontario. This variant transmits very quickly, with early evidence suggesting it can produce severe disease. Without prompt intervention, ICU occupancy could reach unsustainable levels in early January. Ontario can help protect the most vulnerable with vaccinations (children and boosters). The rapid rollout of booster doses is essential, with a strong focus on the most vulnerable (e.g., long-term care, shelters, high-risk communities) and healthcare workers.

The advisory also noted that increasing cases, ICU occupancy, and deaths in European peer jurisdictions show Omicron’s potential risk. The Ontario Stringency Index (41) is similar to the UK (47) and Denmark (44); the Netherlands is at 56, Australia, France, and Germany are at ≥67 (the Stringency Index assesses policy measures that governments have taken to tackle COVID-19. It uses nine response indicators including workplace closures, school closures, travel bans, and vaccination policies, and ranges from 0 to 100 (100 = strictest).

Ontario vaccine coverage (approximately 77% of the population is fully vaccinated) is similar to the Netherlands and Australia (~75%) and Denmark (77%), and higher than remaining peer countries (~69%).

On Thursday, Ontario reported 2,421 new COVID-19 cases (Omicron is expected to be the dominant variant this week, according to the Science Advisory); the provincial case total now stands at 639,341.

Thursday’s report shows that the majority of cases were in Toronto (505 cases), Ottawa (206 cases), Kingston area (190 cases), Peel Region (153 cases), York Region (143 cases), Windsor-Essex (130 cases), and Niagara (115).

The province also reported nine more deaths, increasing the total death toll in the province to 10,102. According to Minister of Health Christine Elliott, 328 people are hospitalized with COVID-19; 256 are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status and 72 are fully vaccinated.

Ontario’s vaccination data show that, as of Thursday morning, 24,849,505 doses of approved COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Ontario; 85.5% of people 5+ in Ontario have received at least one dose and nearly 77% of all people in Ontario are fully vaccinated (80.4% of people 5+ in Ontario are fully vaccinated).

To help fight the spread of Omicron, the Ontario government announced on Wednesday that they would rapidly accelerate its booster dose rollout by expanding eligibility to all individuals aged 18 and over (as of Monday, Dec. 20), as well as shortening the interval to three months (84 days) following an individual’s second dose.

Pharmacies and other channels can also provide boosters for Ontarians 18 and over at the three-month interval starting Friday, Dec. 17, 2021 for walk-ins.

Ontarians can schedule their booster dose appointments through Ontario’s booking portal, by calling the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre, through Indigenous-led vaccination clinics, participating pharmacies, and primary care settings.

To reduce opportunities for close contact in high-risk indoor settings with large crowds—as of Saturday, Dec. 18, at 12:01 a.m., Ontario will introduce a 50 per cent capacity limit to the following indoor areas of venues, with a usual capacity of 1,000 or more: facilities used for sports and recreational fitness activities; entertainment facilities such as concert venues, theatres, and cinemas; racing venues; meeting and event spaces; studio audiences in commercial film and television production; museums, galleries, aquariums, zoos, science centres, landmarks, historic sites, botanical gardens and similar attractions; casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments; and fair, rural exhibitions, and festivals.

“I am issuing a call to arms. We need every member of Team Ontario to stand tall and do their part as we work to protect our hard-fought progress and keep Ontarians safe,” Premier Doug Ford stated on Wednesday.

The province has also launched a holiday testing blitz—from December to mid-January, 2 million rapid tests will be provided free of charge at pop-up testing sites in high-traffic settings, such as malls, retail settings, holiday markets, public libraries, and transit hubs.

Most sites will distribute free take-home rapid antigen test kits, subject to supply, and some will offer asymptomatic rapid antigen screening on-site. The government will also make take-home rapid tests available at LCBO stores across Ontario.

Ontarians can visit Ontario.ca/holidaytesting for more info on pop-up rapid antigen screening sites.

Click here for more COVID-19 Ontario news and here for where you could get rapid COVID-19 tests in Toronto (including a new drive-thru option).

Article exclusive to Streets Of Toronto