Ontario opens vaccines to more people, expands pharmacy pilot amid supply uncertainty

·3 min read

TORONTO — Ontario pledged to further expand its COVID-19 vaccine rollout Monday, but questions remained about the dwindling supply of doses and the government's ability to deliver on its promised timelines.

Premier Doug Ford said Ontario was expecting to receive about 300,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine this week, but it will only receive 90,000,. And it has yet to find out when the next shipment of Oxford-AstraZeneca will arrive.

"It makes things very, very challenging," said Ford, who has frequently complained about the lack of adequate vaccine supplies from the federal government.

On Monday, people aged 75 years and older began booking their vaccine appointments through a provincial online portal and a call centre, while pharmacies in three public health units started administering the Oxford-AstraZeneca shots to those aged 60 and older.

Ford said the pharmacy pilot project, launched last week at 380 locations in Toronto, Kingston and Windsor-Essex, would be expanded in the coming weeks to include Peel and York regions if the province received more doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

As Ford bemoaned the unpredictable nature of vaccine supply, people aged 75 and older who had booked vaccine appointments trickled in at a sports complex in Mississauga, Ont.

Pobeda Cristiano, who turns 79 next week, scored an appointment at the site after having difficulty using the booking portal and phone line.

“I started getting a headache,” she said about booking online. “There was something I couldn’t understand and I couldn’t get it.”

She said she drove to the location near where she lives to see if she could get help with the booking, and staff eventually helped her get in line.

Others had an easier time with the booking portal, reporting a quick turnaround between getting online and receiving their shots. Bob Barbil, 78, booked his appointment online in the morning and had received the shot by noon.

“(It was) excellent. No waiting and lots of people who volunteer,” he said outside.

Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said about 90,000 appointments had been booked in the first few hours after it opened to the wider demographic group Monday morning.

Despite the issues, Jones said she was "confident" that expected supply increases over the next several weeks would speed up the process.

Health Minister Christine Elliott pledged on Monday to her an Oxford-AstraZeneca shot on camera in an effort to combat what she called "unfortunate" hesitancy around the vaccine.

"If I can convince one other person to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine and that helps protect them and their health and safety and that of their families, I'm more than happy to do that," Elliott said.

Concerns about that vaccine first arose when initial trials did not include many seniors, and more recently after several European nations suspended use of the vaccine following repots of some cases of blood clots in patients. The European Medicines Agency has since concluded the vaccine did not raise the overall risk of clots, and Health Canada has declared it safe.

Elliott will join a growing number of politicians in Canada and around the world who have rolled up their sleeves for the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot to restore public confidence in the vaccine.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube was publicly vaccinated with the shot in Montreal last week. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French Prime Minister Jean Castex did so on Friday.

Ontario reported 1,699 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and three more deaths linked to the virus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2021.

- With files from Denise Paglinawan in Mississauga

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press