Province expands COVID-19 booster dose eligibility to those 18 and older

Rapid antigen tests will be available free of charge for the public in coming days

TORONTO – The province has expanded eligibility for third COVID-19 vaccine doses to all Ontarians 18 and older beginning Dec. 20.

The announcement came during an afternoon press conference on Dec. 15, with officials also announcing that two million rapid antigen tests would be available to the public free-of-charge in the days ahead.

The tests, which will be handed out at select LCBO locations, in addition to high-traffic locations like public libraries, malls and transit hubs, are part of what the province is calling a “holiday testing blitz” in advance of Christmas as cases rise and the new Omicron variant causes fear due to its high transmissibility.

“Omicron is now on the verge of becoming the dominate strain of COVID in Ontario,” Ford said at the conference.

When it comes to LCBO locations, the province will start distributing the rapid antigen tests to the “top 100” LCBO stores this week before rolling out to additional locations across the province.

Ford said 11 million rapid tests are being sent home with students during the winter break and 50 million rapid tests in total are “allocated and flowing out to our communities.”

To find pop-up locations for rapid tests, visit: Locations will be updated weekly and do not require an appointment.

“Every test we have is on its way out the door,” Ford said, calling on the federal government to provide the province with more.

The premier exercised words like “offence,” “enemy,” “defence,” “full-force,” and “fight” during the conference, stating he was issuing “a call to arms” and using a “lightning-fast offence” against Omicron.

“It’s all hands on deck, and it starts with booster shots,” he said, adding “nothing matters more” than getting third does into the arms of Ontarians.

The amount of time required to wait between second and third doses has been trimmed from six months to 84 days, minister of health Christine Elliott said on Wednesday.

Those who are at least 50-years-old, or otherwise eligible, can immediately begin re-booking their third dose for an earlier date to align with the newly approved 84-day interval.

Anyone eligible for a first, second or third dose can book through the province’s online portal, a local public health unit, participating pharmacies or a primary healthcare provider.

“That means, those over 50, please, I urge you, take advantage of the next few days – you’re at the most risk … book that appointment now,” Ford said, reading aloud the province’s booking phone number: 1-833-943-3900.

Ford claimed the province will be able to administer upwards of 300,000 doses per day, depending on demand.

He also noted that would be a “significant increase” from the current ability to administer around 40,000 doses per day.

To achieve the target, mass vaccination and mobile sites will be starting back up in addition to workplace clinics.

“In fact, we’ve already started coordinating directly with employers, union leaders and chambers of commerce to execute our province-wide vaccine blitz,” Ford said.

Businesses will “soon” be able to request vaccines for their workers, so long as they can safely store and administer vaccinations to their staff. No further details were provided during the press conference.

ICU admissions, Ford said, are expected to increase in the coming weeks in light of the Omicron variant and, as a result, the province is capping capacity at 50 per cent for venues with capacities of at least 1,000, effective Dec. 18 at midnight.

“We need everyone to do their part … for most it means simply getting your booster as soon as you can,” Ford said, imploring people to roll up their sleeves “one more time.”

Ford acknowledged Ontarians are tired but said, “we’re not done, not yet.”