All Ontario adults can move up second COVID-19 vaccine appointment starting Monday

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TORONTO — Ontario health units asked for patience and persistence on Monday as all adults in the province became eligible to speed up appointments for their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Everyone aged 18 and older who had a first dose of an mRNA vaccine could book an appointment to get their second shot ahead of schedule as of 8 a.m.

Recipients of a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna mRNA shot can get a second shot of either as soon as 28 days after their first jab. People who received Oxford-AstraZeneca must wait at least eight weeks before getting a second jab of any of the three vaccines on offer.

Those eligible could book through the provincial online portal or phone line, through pharmacies or local booking systems.

Nearly 185,000 vaccine appointments had been scheduled through the provincial booking system by noon on Monday, said a spokeswoman for the provincial health minister. That number does not account for appointments booked through pharmacies and local channels.

Health officials asked people to try multiple channels amid the surge in demand.

"Be persistent with the online portals as new appointments are added regularly," the health unit covering Leeds, Grenville and Lanark said on Twitter. "Phone lines are busy but the portal has openings. Try local pharmacies too!"

Halton Region asked people to try the online portal first before flooding the busy phone line.

"Rescheduling online is the easiest way to book an earlier appointment," the health unit said on social media. "Please be patient and we ask that residents avoid calling 311 unless they need immediate support, such as no internet access or email."

Huron Perth Public Health also asked for patience, advising of high web traffic and busy phone lines on Monday afternoon.

People living in designated hot spots for the more infectious Delta virus variant became eligible to move up their appointments, which were initially booked four months apart, earlier this month.

The expansion of accelerated second doses comes just two days before Ontario is due to enter Step 2 of its reopening plan, as the province slowly rolls back pandemic restrictions that were introduced to quell a deadly third wave of infections this spring.

That phase of the reopening plan will allow indoor gatherings of up to five people and see hair salons resume operation for the first time in months.

Ontario reported 210 new COVID-19 cases on Monday and three deaths from the virus. Provincial data said as of Monday, over 77 per cent of adults had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and more than 35 per cent were fully vaccinated.

Those vaccination rates meet the criteria laid out for entering Step 2 and Step 3 of the reopening plan, though officials have said they'll proceed cautiously before loosening restrictions further.

Ontario's reopening plan leaves 21 days between each step to monitor public health indicators. The first two steps have been moved up by a few days based on strong public health indicators and vaccination progress.

Premier Doug Ford said on Monday that Step 3, which allows more indoor activities and larger crowd capacity outdoors -- might come "sooner than later," depending on advice from the province's top doctor.

"We need to get the economy booming," Ford said at a funding announcement in Bracebridge, Ont. "Just bear with us for a very short period. It's going to happen."

The highly transmissible Delta variant has delayed reopening in some parts of the province. The Porcupine health unit in northeastern Ontario entered Step 1 last Friday, several weeks behind the rest of the province, due to a surge in cases. Waterloo Region won't move to Step 2 this week as it, too, battles a variant-driven case spike.

In Grey Bruce, a region that has seen relatively low case numbers throughout the pandemic, there were 45 cases of the Delta variant confirmed as of Monday. Public health said last week that the variant is believed to be behind a recent spike in cases, many of them linked to homeless or transient individuals and those who use drugs.

Mobile vaccination teams were to offer shots to people in unregistered shelters in rooming homes this week, after a second-dose push among shelter residents last week.

A First Nation covered by the Grey Bruce health unit ordered all non-essential band services to close indefinitely on Sunday, after 27 cases were confirmed among community members, believed to be linked to the variant.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2021.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

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