TORONTO — Ontario says it is adding health-care workers to a list of high-risk employees prioritized for their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The province says the workers can begin booking second doses by the end of this week, and further details will be provided in the coming days.

Health-care workers were among the first groups to be prioritized for a first dose of the shot when Ontario began administering the vaccines earlier this year. 

However, the province later extended dosing intervals for COVID-19 vaccines from 21 days to four months, which means many workers are still waiting for the second dose.

The province says a wide array of health-care workers will now be able to get their second dose faster. 

The eligible groups include all hospital and acute care staff in frontline roles, medical first responders and long-term care home and retirement-home health care workers.

Also on Monday, the Ontario government announced it is lowering the age of COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to 40 across the province on Thursday as it continues to expand its rollout. 

People with health conditions deemed “at risk,” such as heart disease and dementia, will be able to make an appointment starting Tuesday morning.

Over the weekend, hundreds of pharmacies in COVID-19 hot spots began offering Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots to people aged 18 and over. 

Half of vaccine supply is being diverted to hot spots this week, based on the recommendation of the province’s scientific advisers. Starting next week, vaccines are set to be distributed per capita once again. 

Ontario reported 2,716 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, along with 19 more deaths related to the virus.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said 807 of the new infections are in Toronto, 707 are in Peel Region and 294 in York Region.

The minister said the numbers are based on more than 27,000 tests completed since the last daily report.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s fiscal watchdog said it will take the province approximately three and a half years to clear the surgical backlog from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Financial Accountability Office projects that the backlog of cancelled surgeries will reach 419,200 procedures by the end of September.

The FAO estimates it will cost the province $1.3 billion to clear the backlog, and notes the government has allocated $610 million in its latest budget to address the issue.

The watchdog said its projections on clearing the backlog assumes hospitals will be able to operate at 11 per cent above pre-pandemic volumes in the coming years.

Overall, the FAO said the province will have a $61.9 billion spending shortfall in the health-care sector over the next nine years.

It says if the province intends to reach its health sector spending targets it will need to introduce new spending-restraint measures.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 10, 2021. 

The Canadian Press

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