The Ontario government says it will rapidly increase capacity in its COVID-19 vaccine rollout, adding 700 pharmacies across the province.
And Toronto is now set to open three additional immunization clinics on Monday to vaccinate eligible residents with confirmed appointments.
With nine city-operated vaccination clinics open Monday, and various pop-up centres in neighbourhoods with the highest levels of COVID-19 transmission, Mayor John Tory said he is optimistic about vaccination trends in Toronto.
“My sense now is we’ve really developed a very solid momentum, both at the city clinics, where we are booked very close to capacity all through the week, which is great, and also at these pop-up neighbourhood clinics where we are going to make a real effort to reach out to people in hot spot neighbourhoods through their postal codes,” he said Sunday morning on CP24.
Last week, the province announced that residents aged 18 and older in Ontario’s hot spot postal codes would soon be eligible for their first dose of vaccines . This weekend saw long lineups outside a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Thorncliffe Park. It is estimated that about 1,300 first doses were given on Saturday.
Tory explained that one of the major reasons for the lineups outside pop-up clinics is because they are not part of the provincial booking system, and work through walk-ins.
At city-run mass immunization centres, people ages 50 and older can book an appointment to receive a shot through the province’s online portal or call centre.
While the mayor expects that eventually people can book appointments at pop-up clinics, he says that at the moment, “we wanted to get on with them and make them available to a much broader crowd of people.”
Ford said last week that when the province-wide stay-at-home order expires in early May, he hopes for at least 40 per cent of Ontarians to have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The 700 new pharmacies that will soon open in Ontario will start offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to individuals aged 55 and older throughout this week.
Ontario now has more than 1,400 pharmacy locations offering the AstraZeneca vaccine, and that number is expected to reach approximately 1,500 by the end of April, officials said.
“With more local pharmacies coming on board, receiving the COVID-19 vaccine will be easier and more convenient for eligible populations across the province,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a statement on Sunday.
The health minister, Toronto Mayor John Tory and Ontario Premier Doug Ford all received their AstraZeneca vaccine recently in public in an effort to suppress vaccine hesitancy following concerns.
“I am feeling fine, like a million bucks. It’s so important to go get a vaccine and all of them work, no matter if it’s AstraZeneca or Moderna or Pfizer. When it is your turn, please get vaccinated because every doctor I talk to, says it’s going to do two things for you, it’s going to save your life and it’s going to keep you out of hospital and out of the ICU,” Ford said in an email to The Star Sunday morning.
“So, I encourage everyone, please get out there and get vaccinated as soon as it is your turn.”
According to Ford’s office, the province is on pace right now to hit four million doses in 10 days, with 3.1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered on Saturday.
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam took to social media on Sunday to say there is confusion caused by two different lists of specific hotspot postal codes circulating for residents in Toronto.
“I wish I could provide more clarity into the decision framework on why some postal codes were chosen over others, and why hospitals are using a different list of priority postal codes than the Province announced,” she said.
She clarified the zones (M4X, M5A, and M5B) in Ward 13 where residents aged 50 and older can book appointments and city run clinics, and the two pop-up vaccination clinics where residents aged 18-49 can get vaccinated.
Wong-Tam also said there are many roadblocks that still exist for residents to access vaccines.
“(The rollout) is also highlighting the massive inequity of access to vaccines for people who do not have access to the Internet,” she said. “There is currently no way for people to book vaccines in person or over the phone for pop-ups.”