Hamilton residents age 60 and older can now book COVID vaccines

·4 min read

Hamilton dropped the age limit for COVID vaccines to those 60 and older on Tuesday, ahead of the province entering the second phase of its vaccine rollout.

The news comes after a spike in unfilled appointments at the city’s mass immunization clinics over the long weekend and into Monday, and at a time when local health officials offer grim projections for hospitalizations in the third wave.

In a press release Tuesday morning, Hamilton public health said residents age 60 and older can book their shots, “effective immediately.” Residents can book online or by calling the provincial or city vaccine lines.

At a briefing Tuesday, Dr. Elizabeth Richardson said there were no issues with the booking portal over the long weekend and suggested the vacant appointments were instead from community members choosing not to book shots.

“Getting vaccinated as soon as you can is a really important part as we move forward,” said the medical officer of health. “We’re very much encouraging people, reach out, talk with people about it, go to trusted sources of information, and come in and get vaccinated.”

On April 5, only 526 doses were administered at the Hamilton Health Sciences clinic on Wellington Street. At its peak, the clinic was giving more than 1,000 shots daily. At the FirstOntario Centre, 196 doses were administered, despite 850 available slots.

About 80 per cent of Hamiltonians age 85 and older have been vaccinated so far, Dr. Richardson said, while 77 per cent of those 80 to 84 years old have received their shots. Residents 75 to 79 sit at 69 per cent, with those 70 to 74 years old at 60 per cent.

Tuesday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford announced Ontario was entering the next phase of its vaccine plan, prioritizing residents age 50 and over in “hot spot” neighbourhoods and individuals with the “highest-risk” health conditions regardless of age.

Two postal codes in Hamilton were identified as “hot spots” by the province: L9C on the west Mountain and L8W on the east Mountain. Residents 50 and older will be targeted for vaccines, though it’s unclear when.

“The Ministry of Health is working with public health units to ensure timely access to vaccines among the identified communities,” said a release, which mentioned the vaccine would be delivered through pharmacies, mass clinics and mobile clinics.

Other groups prioritized in Phase 2 include transplant recipients, patients with certain neurological diseases or cancers, kidney disease, and their caregivers. The province says health-care providers will contact eligible patients to book appointments. Officials expect to reach “the majority of this group” by the end of the month.

“High-risk” and “at-risk” individuals will become eligible later in this phase, along with residents and staff at congregate settings and some workers who can’t work from home.

Ford and other officials addressed the vacant appointments in Hamilton as the city waited for the province to lower the age cap.

“We’re giving flexibility to the public health units as we move forward,” said Ford.

The solicitor general said the age limit for vaccines in Hamilton was updated “as soon as we learned that people were not actually taking those appointments.”

“It does not mean that Hamilton has completed vaccinating their over 70s,” said Sylvia Jones. “It means more people have to access those sites whether it is through the online portal or through the telephone system.”

Ford added that there are still 88,000 Ontario residents age 80 and older — more in the lower age groups, which became eligible later — who have not yet booked their vaccines.

“Please sign up,” he said.

David Eccles, a 62-year-old Bartonville resident, was “frustrated” hearing about appointments going unfilled in Hamilton, and staff resources “being wasted.”

When he became eligible for a vaccine Tuesday morning, he immediately got a slot for Thursday at the FirstOntario Centre. Eccles said it was a smooth experience.

“There was no wait,” he said. But he thought the city could have done better with its rollout.

“My overall impression throughout this whole thing is Hamilton public health has been slow to react,” he said, pointing to news about Niagara Region offering to vaccinate school staff from Saturday.

“They’re always waiting for other people,” he added. “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of initiative here locally.”

Meanwhile, more pharmacies chosen last week to deliver shots began rolling out AstraZeneca vaccines on Tuesday. Bhupinder Nagra, a pharmacist at Shoppers Drug Mart on Garth Street, said his store received 1,200 doses Monday evening and began vaccinations the next day, one day ahead of schedule.

The pharmacy had 100 slots booked and, other than about 10 cancellations from people who got bookings elsewhere, Nagra said appointments were steady.

“Each time I’m done with a vaccine I have another one ready, so I haven’t had my lunch until now,” he said at around 2 p.m., noting about 40 people got their shots so far. Nagra added he has 60 to 80 slots booked daily through Saturday and is willing to keep offering them until 11 p.m.

“People are very happy, they are really excited,” he said. “They’re getting their one step closer to freedom.”

Maria Iqbal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator