Reflecting on Ontario’s Updated COVID-19 Vaccination Eligibility

On August 17th,  Ontario updated its vaccine eligibility criteria.  Anyone turning 12 years old in 2021 can now be vaccinated, rather than having to wait until their 12th birthday.  In addition, those who are living in long-term care settings are eligible for a booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine as long as their last dose was at least 5 months prior. Patients who are receiving immunosuppressive treatments that have been shown to impact vaccine efficacy may also receive a booster if at least 2 months have passed from their second COVID-19 vaccine. This includes transplant patients and those receiving treatments for hematological cancers.  In addition, patients with autoimmune diseases and who receive therapies that lower their B Cell levels are now eligible for a booster dose.

Many patients with autoimmune diseases are on treatments that are considered immunosuppressive, however, those with the greatest risk of not responding to the vaccine are people on medications that suppress their ability to make antibodies when getting the vaccine. Treatments such as rituximab (Rituxan, Ruxience, Riximyo) and ocrelizumab (Ocrevus) are in this category. If you are receiving one of these treatments, any vaccine is best given 5 months or more post the last rituximab/ocrelizumab dose.  Where possible individuals with upcoming appointments should consider getting this third dose, 2-4 weeks before their next rituximab/ocrelizumab infusion.  A note from your specialist confirming you are on one of these therapies will likely be needed when booking this appointment. Other evidence may also be accepted, so check ahead with your public health unit. To date, third doses are only available through public health and not at the pharmacy.  Some public health units began giving third doses to eligible patients last week.  It is suggested that whichever vaccine you had for your second dose, be the same vaccine for the third dose.

Learn more about the updated eligibility here.

Carolyn Whiskin is the Pharmacy Manager for Charlton Health. Carolyn specializes in the treatment of autoimmune diseases, pharmaceutical compounding, women’s health, pain and smoking cessation. Carolyn has won provincial and national awards for her commitment to patient care and public service.

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