Long-term caregivers in Ontario will have extra time to get third COVID-19 vaccine doses, as the Omicron variant drives outbreaks and restricts access to vaccine clinics.

Staff in the sector were initially given until Friday to get stimulant shots to stay on work. But the date has now been moved back to March 14, a spokesman for the long-term care minister said on Thursday.

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“In response to the pressure that Omicron has placed on long-term care homes – such as delaying vaccination appointments due to infection and clinics canceled due to outbreaks – Ontario is extending the deadline for qualifying long-term care staff and caregivers to receive their third doses,” Vanessa De M said. written in an email.

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“This will help ensure that staff are able to receive their third doses, while maintaining staff levels and maintaining the levels of care that residents deserve.”

De Matteis said 77 percent of long-term care staff eligible to receive third doses received it from Sunday.

Fifty-six percent of the province’s long-term care homes have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks since Thursday.

Resident cases – 2,661 active as of Thursday – were close to the numbers seen in early 2020 when outbreaks and infections devastated the province’s long-term care homes, prompting the province to seek military assistance.

Virus-related deaths have dropped significantly in homes since vaccinations became available early last year, but those numbers have also increased in recent days and weeks. The province reported 26 deaths in long-term care due to COVID-19 on Thursday and 37 the previous day.

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Reported COVID-19 cases among long-term caregivers were higher this month than at any other point in the pandemic.

The province has begun administering fourth-dose vaccine doses to residents of long-term care and mandatory boosters for workers, citing the increased risk to vulnerable residents in the homes. It has also imposed restrictions on visitors and other activities in an effort to control the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

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Click to play video: 'Senior dies after booster not available in long-term care home'

Senior dies after booster not available in long-term care home

Senior dies after booster not available in long-term care home

Trade unions and industry groups have expressed the need for an extension of the reinforcement mandate, which they say would come at a time when homes are already struggling with Omicron-driven staff shortages.

Prior to the booster deadline extension, the province said homes could request seven-day extensions for individual workers on a case-by-case basis, with no limit on the number of extensions for each person.

Union leaders on Thursday expressed doubts that the case-by-case approach would work effectively without exacerbating the current staffing situation.

They also said the government should make vaccines more accessible because many workers are too busy getting to appointments outside of their scheduled shifts.

“These are people who are already exhausted after two years of working on these schedules,” Michael Hurley told the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

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“(The government) must also take steps to bring the vaccine to the workers if we want to increase the numbers.”

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