The Ontario government has announced the expansion of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout will begin Monday, Mar. 22, 2021, with a larger number of residents now eligible to book their vaccination through participating pharmacies and via the provincial online booking system.
In a media release on Friday, Mar. 19, 2021, the province said over 50 per cent of Ontario residents aged 80 and over have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The province is expanding appointments through its online booking system to individuals aged 75 and over, and expanding vaccinations at participating pharmacies and primary care settings to individuals over 60 years of age.
“The progress we are making on our Vaccine Distribution Plan demonstrates what can be done when we unleash the full potential of Team Ontario,” said Premier Ford. “Thanks to the efforts of an army of frontline health care heroes and volunteers, we are getting needles in arms even faster than we had imagined. All we need now is a steady and reliable supply of vaccines from the Federal government to ensure anyone who wants one, gets one as soon as possible so we can all stay safe.”
This news comes days after Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, extended the time interval of the second dose of COVID-19 vaccines up to 16 weeks. In a release earlier this week, KFL&A Public Health said this extension was made in order to increase the number of individuals benefitting from a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine in the context of a limited COVID-19 vaccine supply and the presence of highly transmissible variants of concern.
“Thanks to the efforts of our health care partners and the efficiency of our booking system, Ontario has been able to schedule more appointments and vaccinate more people quickly and conveniently,” said Minister Elliott. “We are doing everything we can to protect those who are most vulnerable and will ensure that we reach every Ontarian eligible for vaccination in Phase One as we expand the vaccination program further in the coming weeks.”
Ontario began vaccinating individuals aged 80 and over in February, and launched an online booking tool and a call centre to help answer questions and support appointment bookings at mass immunization clinics. Since the provincial booking system was launched on March 15, the province said more than 239,000 appointments have been scheduled for the first and second doses.
“We have successfully expanded Ontario’s vaccine rollout plan to include pharmacies, mass vaccination centres and primary health care providers in key parts of the province,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones. “This is a huge accomplishment and we continue to extend this rollout to other parts of the province as more vaccines become available.”
Select pharmacies and primary care settings are available to vaccinate those aged 60 and over, expanding on Monday, Mar. 22, 2021 to encompass those over age 65 who were unable to get vaccinated at these locations previously. According to the release, another 350 pharmacies will be brought on board across the province in the next two weeks bringing the total to approximately 700 locations. Forty pharmacies in KFL&A were part of the original roll out, and continue to offer vaccinations.
The province said it is expected that this number would again be doubled to approximately 1,500 by the end of April. Depending on vaccine supply, retail pharmacies could administer up to 40 per cent of all vaccinations by the end of April. Details on additional locations and the application process for pharmacy participation will be shared in the coming days. In addition, vaccinations in primary care settings will continue in collaboration with public health units.
“Ontario’s vaccine distribution plan is now well underway,” said General (Ret’d) Rick Hillier. “We are grateful to the army of diverse teams – the health care practitioners, IT specialists, data analysts, the dedicated individuals working in logistics and many others – for their outstanding service and commitment to put the needed processes in place to make this happen.”
The province said they continue to expect a high volume of traffic on their online booking system. Everyone is eager to receive the vaccine, but those not yet eligible for a vaccine are being asked to avoid accessing the booking system or calling the service desk to allow those that are eligible the opportunity to book an appointment.