COVID-19 vaccine shots snapped up in Ontario as adults become eligible for boosters

·3 min read

TORONTO — Appointments for COVID-19 booster shots were snapped up quickly on Monday as millions of Ontario residents became eligible for the third doses.

The province started offering third doses to residents between the ages of 18 and 49 -- about 10.5 million people -- provided it's been three months since their second shot. Premier Doug Ford and other top officials have touted the sped-up booster rollout as central to the fight against the high contagious Omicron variant.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott said more than 125,000 third dose appointments had been booked through the province's online portal as of 10 a.m., noting that the figure doesn't include shots booked through pharmacies, local public health units and other channels.

"We are pleased to see so many people embrace the opportunity to ensure strong protection against the Omicron variant," Alexandra Hilkene said.

But many social media users who went online to reserve a spot on Monday reported facing a virtual lineup of more than hour, with others noting no appointments in their region or little availability over the next month.

Some public health units advised of the appointment crunch early in the day.

Health officials in Ottawa said all available spots had been reserved roughly 15 minutes after the expanded eligibility officially took effect.

"We apologize for the inconvenience & are working hard to add more capacity and availability. Stay tuned for updates!" Ottawa Public Health tweeted, adding appointments may still be available through local pharmacies.

Niagara Region Public Health said Sunday night that all booster appointments for Monday and Tuesday had already been snapped up. The health unit said it would provide an update once more spots were added.

Health officials in other regions advised that vaccinations would continue to prioritize first and second doses and boosters for older adults.

In Simcoe-Muskoka, the local health unit said walk-in clinics would be reserved for people getting first and second shots and high-risk groups eligible for boosters, including people 50 and older -- but warned of long lines at walk-in clinics.

It advised that people aged 18 to 49 book appointments rather than attend walk-in clinics.

"We understand everyone is frustrated," the health unit said on Twitter. "Due to overwhelming demand for booster doses, we are needing to prioritize our clinic capacity at this time. Therefore, 18 - 49 year olds WILL NOT be able to attend a walk-in."

Southwestern Public Health Unit said that as of 11:15 a.m., there were no vaccinations appointments available until Jan. 17, with efforts underway to increase capacity.

In her statement, Hilkene said public health units are "actively working to add appointments to the booking system" as the province ramps up vaccination capacity, aiming for between 200,000 and 300,000 doses per day. The province reported administering 140,827 vaccinations the previous day.

She said the government also encourages people to check other channels like pharmacies, primary care settings and walk-in clinics.

Ontario also had new public health restrictions in effect as of Sunday. Restaurants, retailers, gyms and other indoor settings are only be allowed to open at 50 per cent capacity. Indoor social gatherings are also limited to a maximum of 10 people, while outdoor gatherings can only have 25.

Ontario reported 3,784 new COVID-19 cases on Monday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 20, 2021.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

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