The launch of the COVID-19 booster vaccines in Ontario is already underway, with more than 290,000 vaccines administered to those who are eligible as of the end of November. On Thursday, the province announced the extension of booster vaccine eligibility for people 50 and older, opening the third dose of the vaccine to 3.8 million more Ontarians on December 13.

Ontario says more adults will be eligible for a third dose to increase their protection against COVID-19 in the new year. But the absorption of these booster doses has been low so far, and many wonder if a third dose is right for them, or how and when to get it.

To answer questions about booster shots, Star received guidance from Dr. Susy Hota, infectious disease specialist and chief of infection prevention and control at University Health Network.

Why is a third COVID-19 vaccine offered?

There are different scenarios where a third dose would be beneficial in increasing immunity against COVID-19.

For some immunosuppressed people, Hota said there is emerging evidence that two doses may not be enough to offer robust protection, and a third dose is helpful in boosting immunity. Older people on two doses would also benefit from a third dose, Hota said, as lab results show that antibody levels in some have dropped, meaning the protection from the initial two doses is waning.

“That is why the implementation of reinforcements in Ontario has been sequential and focused on age,” Hota said. Older people were vaccinated earlier, so they need the protection booster first.

Who is eligible to receive the booster now? If I am not eligible yet, when will I be?

As of December 13, people age 50 and older are eligible to receive a booster shot in Ontario if it has been 168 days since their second dose.

Others can also receive the dose immediately if that period of time has passed: people 70 years and older; health workers and essential caregivers; people who received two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine or one dose of Johnson & Johnson; and First Nations, Inuit and M├ętis adults and non-indigenous members of their household.

Dialysis patients are eligible if 56 days have passed since their second dose.

Younger Ontarians will receive their booster shots starting in January based on age and risk, the province said.

How can I get the booster shot?

The easiest way to book is through the Ontario government website, where you will answer questions about eligibility. Then you will be given the option to book through the provincial system or view a list of pharmacies near you where the dose is available.

What vaccine is offered for the booster in Ontario? Does it matter if the vaccine I already have is different?

Hota said that most of the vaccines available in Ontario are Pfizer or Moderna (mRNA vaccines). There is no danger of mixing vaccines, which means that someone who received Moderna can receive Pfizer as a booster and vice versa.

For those who received AstraZeneca, Hota said there is evidence to suggest that they would be more protected if they received an mRNA vaccine as a third dose.

Are there any side effects?

Side effects from the third dose are generally mild and similar to those of the first and second, Hota said. They can include fatigue, flu-like symptoms, or more localized symptoms, such as mild swelling or pain in the arm where the injection is given.

There is a lot of talk about vaccine shortages in other parts of the world. Is it okay to give me a third dose?

Hota said that, until recently, it was not considered necessary for the youngest and healthiest people to get a booster shot this early. But with the news of the Omicron variant and the unknowns surrounding it, Hota said there is a renewed urgency to avoid another possible wave of infections.

But he added that governments should consider sharing vaccine doses with countries that have limited supplies, as it can be beneficial in ending the pandemic in the long run. In general, he said it is better if the dose of the vaccine goes into someone’s arm that is wasted.

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