As COVID-19 restrictions persist across Ontario, some say public health officials have failed to stress the importance of third doses.
Only 47.3 percent of people received a third dose, according to Public Health Ontario Data as of February 27. That’s compared to 81 percent of those who took two doses, or a gap of about 5.5 million people.
Ontario lifted the vaccine mandate at the beginning of the month and could lift the mask mandate by the end of March as the number of hospitalized cases has continued on a mostly downward trend since mid-January.
“We still have the potential to screw this up if we move too quickly,” said Dr. Peter Johnny, leader of the scientific advisory schedule for COVID-19 in Ontario.
The World Health Organization said the percentage of people who took a third dose increases with age, with more than 80 percent of people over the age of 70 and more than half of people aged 40 to 69 getting a third dose.
In Ottawa, 61 percent of people age 12 or older get a third dose. The only health units with the highest rates are in the counties of Leeds, Greenville, Lanark and the Kingston area.
But this number is not rising quickly. Only about 10,000 third doses are given per day across the county, Johnny said, adding that more people per day — an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 — are instead gaining less effective partial immunity by contracting the Omicron variant.
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“I think we, as public health, have dropped the ball on this,” said Dr. Doug Manuel, chief scientist at the Ottawa Hospital.
“I’m worried we didn’t communicate well.”
Compare the COVID vaccines to having to constantly fill up your car’s gas tank: it’s only full when you leave the gas station — or the vaccine clinic.
Fatigue likely to blame COVID
Two years later, Manuel said, fatigue had gripped both the public and health care workers causing people to lower their motivation to get vaccinated, despite being told three doses offered better protection against Omicron.
He said that what was once one of the most effective methods of behavior modification, the passport vaccine, has stopped working.
“There is less acceptance of them especially at this point in the pandemic.”
In a statement, Ottawa Public Health acknowledged that more should be done “to confirm the efficacy of the three doses against Omicron” and said it was working with community groups to remove barriers to people trying to get a vaccine.
In Renfrew County, the average number of third doses is comparable to the rest of the county, but about 30 percent sits for those ages 18 to 50 — a number that the district’s medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Cushman, called “distasteful.”
“It’s sad because this is a public health failure on the part of society,” he said, adding that the lifting of restrictions and the removal of the vaccination passport, along with the unwillingness to make their passport three-dose. t helped.
“It kind of helped and provoked… poor compliance, low enthusiasm for a third shot and that’s really bad.”
It’s about timing and revitalizing efforts around messaging to increase vaccine uptake if and when another type of concern arrives, Cushman says.
He also suggested looking at bundling COVID-19 vaccines with influenza vaccines in the fall.
“Everywhere it’s going to be daunting and we just have to remind people and do our best and hopefully people will take that seriously.”