Ontario vax appointments open to residents 75+ on Monday, pharmacy program expanding

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TORONTO — Ontario is expanding its COVID-19 vaccine effort next week to those aged 75 and older while certain pharmacies will be able to administer doses to more seniors.

Premier Doug Ford said the province's immunization rollout is ahead of schedule, which is why Ontario's vaccine booking system will take appointments from residents aged 75 and up starting Monday.

"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," Ford said.

The province said more than 50 per cent of Ontario residents aged 80 and older have now received at least one vaccine dose.

Retired gen. Rick Hillier, who is leading the provincial vaccine task force, noted on Friday that there has been a decline in the number of adults aged 80 and older booking appointments. He said the province wants to keep the supply moving.

"What we're following is a trend on bookings itself," Hillier told reporters.

"As soon as that starts to decrease below the capacity that we have and the vaccines that we are anticipating, then obviously we want to move to the next age group because we don't want to have a single day with seats empty that we otherwise could have filled."

Hillier said bookings will continue for those aged 80 and older as vaccinations are offered to more people

The 75 and older cohort was initially set to become eligible in April.

A pilot program offering vaccines in some pharmacies is also expanding and, as of Monday, will offer the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot to anyone aged 60 and older.

The pharmacy project previously only offered the shot to those aged 60 to 64 but the government says it is expanding after new guidelines deemed the shot safe for those 65 and older.

The number of participating pharmacies is also doubling to approximately 700 over the next two weeks. The province said that number is expected to rise to approximately 1,500 by the end of April.

Depending on vaccine supply, the province said retail pharmacies could administer up to 40 per cent of all vaccinations by the end of April.

Eligible residents can contact a participating pharmacy directly to make an appointment. Participating pharmacies are currently located in the Toronto, Kingston and Windsor health units but Ford said the project will be expanding "across the province."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2021.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press