Ontario will lower the eligibility for third COVID-19 vaccine shots down to anyone age 50 later this month and include a wider group of immunocompromised people as new cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant continue to pop up in the province.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore says that starting Dec. 13, anyone age 50 and up who received their second COVID-19 vaccine dose six months ago or longer will be able to book a third appointment.

Kidney dialysis patients, hematopoietic stem cell transplant recipients as well as “hematopoietic stem cell transplants (HSCT), hematopoietic cell transplants (HCT) (autologous or allogeneic), and recipients of CAR-T-cell therapy” will be able to schedule a third vaccine dose as of today.

Further expansion of eligibility will come in the new year.

“Beginning in January, Ontario will further expand eligibility for booster doses based on age and risk, with an interval of six to eight months from the second dose,” the government said in a release issued on Thursday afternoon.

He told reporters the province’s vaccination clinics, pharmacies, hospitals and doctors’ offices had capacity and vaccine supply to administer third shots to everyone 50+, but not the entire adult population at this time.

“We built capacity to ensure over the next 2 weeks those people could come forward along with the 5-11’s,” he said. “If we don’t see the capacity being used, we will then potentially open it up sooner to other age groups.”

He said that provincial data still shows those under the age of 50 having “ongoing good immunity” from two shots.

“We’d love to offer it at a population level in the new year we are just looking at capacity of the system,” Moore said.

Last month, the provincial government updated its rollout plan for administering booster shots.

As of Nov. 6, third dose appointments opened up on the provincial booking site to individuals aged 70 and older, health-care workers, people who received two doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine or other viral vector vaccines, select immunocompromised individuals and all Indigenous Peoples in the province.

Justin Bates, president of the Ontario Pharmacists Association, says the government should open up eligibility to all residents 12 years and older and gradually administer third doses based on when individuals got their second shot, as age groups were given their first and second doses based on a staggered approach.

“That will allow us to do this in a staggered fashion, manage the demand and supply and make sure everybody has optimal immunity and efficacy of the vaccines against the variants because the immunity does wane after six months, we know that from the current data and that's why boosters are going to be so important,” he says.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, infectious diseases specialist at Toronto General Hospital, has also said repeatedly over the last several weeks that the province should open up boosters to 50-plus.

“If you look at the Ontario and Canada data it’s pretty clear that we should be expanding the third dose eligibility to people 50 years and up and it sounds like that’s on the near horizon. I think that’s a good move,” he told CP24 on Thursday morning.

The province is also offering the one-shot Johnson &Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at clinics for the first time.

Moore said the introduction of the Janssen shot was for unvaccinated adults with a confirmed allergy to an ingredient of an mRNA vaccine, or those with a fear of needles.

“Some people didn’t want mRNA – we heard loud and clear from multiple partners that some wanted Johnson & Johnson,” Moore said, adding the shot would be available upon request from local public health units.

The move to expand booster eligibility comes after the emergence of the new omicron variant that was first discovered in South Africa last week.

In response to the new variant, which raises concern due to its high number of mutations, the federal government implemented travel restrictions against travellers from select countries in southern Africa.

Ottawa also re-imposed its COVID-19 testing requirement for all air travellers entering Canada, except those coming from the United States, which is set to come into effect “over the next few days.”