Several groups of high-risk Ontarians are eligible to book COVID-19 booster shots as of 8 a.m. Saturday morning.
The expanded vaccine program comes as Ontario reports 508 new cases of COVID-19 and three more virus-related deaths. In Quebec, there were 688 new cases of COVID-19 reported Saturday and four deaths attributed to the virus.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott says there are 130 patients in intensive care due to COVID-19, including 115 who are not fully vaccinated or with an unknown immunization status.
More than 11 million Ontarians, or about 85 per cent, have already received two doses of a vaccine, while as of Saturday millions more are eligible for a third shot.
People can book an appointment for a booster dose if they are aged 70 and older, health-care workers or essential caregivers in congregate settings, people who received two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine or one dose of the shot by Johnson & Johnson, and First Nations, Inuit and Metis adults and their non-Indigenous household members.
They can schedule appointments for at least six months after the date of their second dose.
Ontario’s chief medical officer of health says evidence suggests that’s when immunity starts to wane.
Dr. Kieran Moore says those groups of people are at an increased risk of lower immunity and greater risk of exposure and serious illness.
The 2.75 million people who became eligible for boosters Saturday add to the quarter of a million residents already eligible, who include certain immunocompromised individuals and residents of long-term care and retirement homes.
Ontario officials say the protection from two doses is still very high for the general population after six months, especially against severe illness and death, so a booster dose would provide additional protection against more mild illness.
The province is planning to eventually offer booster doses to everyone, and is eyeing early 2022 to start the broader rollout.
Meanwhile, in Quebec, health officials say COVID-19-related hospitalizations dropped by 11 to 229, while the number of people in intensive care declined by six to 51. The seven-day average for new cases stands at 561.
Of the latest reported infections, 409 were among people who were either unvaccinated or who had only received a first dose within the past two weeks.
Quebec says another 6,869 vaccine doses have been administered, most of which were given in the past 24 hours.
The province’s public health institute says about 91 per cent of Quebecers aged 12 and older have received at least one dose, while 87 per cent are considered fully vaccinated with two shots.