Ontario expands vaccine rollout to family doctors, pharmacy pilot to start Friday

·3 min read

TORONTO — Some Ontarians aged 60 to 64 will be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine at their doctor's office as soon as this weekend, the government said Wednesday as it further expanded its immunization effort.

The initiative will start in Toronto, Peel Region, Hamilton, Guelph, Peterborough, and Simcoe-Muskoka, with doctors administering the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot. The province plans to expand the program as vaccine supply increases.

Physicians will initially have a limited amount of vaccines to work with, receiving 29,500 out of 194,500 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot that arrived in the province this week.

The rest of those shots will go to 325 pharmacies in three regions that will start administering the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine Friday to residents aged 60 to 64.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott said to be eligible a person must be in the age range of 60-64 as of the day of vaccination or within that age range in 2021.

Premier Doug Ford said vaccine shipments to the province are now increasing after months of sluggish supply, allowing the immunization effort to ramp up.

"My friends, the light at the end of the tunnel keeps getting brighter," he said. "Please be patient. We will get through this."

The government said primary care physicians were to start contacting eligible patients Wednesday to schedule vaccinations. Those appointments will begin Saturday.

The Ontario Medical Association welcomed the announcement.

"These details will help us plan how best to care for our patients," it said in a statement.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, Windsor-Essex and Kingston, residents aged 60 to 64 could also start booking appointments directly Wednesday with participating pharmacies.

Loblaw said some of its Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacies had already started to administer doses on Wednesday.

According to Statistics Canada, there are more than 961,000 people aged 60 to 64 in Ontario.

The head of the province's vaccine distribution task force said the government will continue to expand its pharmacy and physician vaccine efforts as more doses arrive.

"As soon as we get them we'll publicize that and we'll move into our logistics pipeline and get it to pharmacies and family doctors and carry on along that same age group until we are finished," said retired Gen. Rick Hillier.

A provincewide vaccine booking system, consisting of an online portal and phone line, is set to go live on Monday. Residents aged 80 and older, as well as certain health-care workers and other priority groups, will be able to schedule their appointments through that system.

Hillier urged people not to attempt to book multiple appointments.

"Book one appointment and don't try to diminish the opportunity that your friends and your family and other others could have to get their vaccine by clogging up (the system)," he said.

Hillier also cautioned people not to overwhelm the province's booking portal when it launches.

"I know almost every system that has gone live across the country, across the world, in fact, has had challenges," he said. "Undoubtedly, we will have some. ... If they are encountered, we will fix it and get it back online. I ask all of you to give us a chance to roll that out."

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Wednesday that the province is continuing to scramble with the evolving vaccine rollout.

"The government needs to take responsibility for the mass confusion and chaos, that is surrounding this plan, and the lack of accountability," she said. "I just think that people are going to be pretty confused by all of this."

Liberal health critic John Fraser said the pharmacy pilot has the makings of a "free for all" and will create unequal access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

"It’s obvious now that not having the central online booking portal ready at the beginning of March, like Alberta and Quebec, was a big mistake," he said in a statement.

Ontario reported 1,316 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday and 16 more deaths linked to the virus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 10, 2021.

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press