TORONTO — For 13-year-old Antonia Owsianicki, waiting two hours in line for her COVID-19 vaccine was scarier than the needle itself.
“It was pretty easy to do,” she said outside the Toronto pop-up clinic where she got her first Pfizer-BioNTech dose on Wednesday. “Lining up was the scariest part because I was nervous, but I feel better now after I got it.”
Hundreds of teenagers and their families lined up in the summery May weather for their shots on Wednesday. The clinic at a local school is one of the first in Toronto offering shots to youth aged 12 and older starting this week.
Many of the young people in line said they heard about the opportunity through friends or social media, and stepped away from online courses for a few hours to get their jabs.
Sophie Nazareth, 13, got a ride with friends to the clinic after seeing posts on social media. The group said friendly staff helped them feel comfortable.
"I'm just happy that later on I'll get to hang out with more of my friends,” Nazareth said after getting her shot.
Ontario has said it plans to open vaccine booking to all youth aged 12 and older starting the week of May 31.
But the government allowed public health units to vaccinate kids aged 12 and up at pop-ups, mobile clinics and for walk-in appointments where the Pfizer vaccine is offered starting Tuesday.
Some health units using their own booking systems are moving ahead of schedule. Youth aged 12 and older in Peel Region can book COVID-19 vaccines starting Thursday, joining other health units that are building plans to start vaccinating teenagers in the coming weeks.
The mayor of Brampton, Ont. -- one of the three communities in Peel -- announced the expansion on Wednesday.
Patrick Brown said youth in that age band who live, work or attend school in Peel Region will be eligible for Pfizer shots, which are authorized for youth in Canada.
He said expanding eligibility is "welcome news" in the hard-hit region, which has been a hot spot for infections throughout the pandemic.
"The more people we get vaccinated, the sooner we're going to get back to normal," Brown said.
The local expansion follows a provincewide widening of vaccine eligibility on Tuesday that allows all adults to book shots.
The Wednesday Toronto clinic was part of an ongoing effort to get vaccines to communities with the highest rates of COVID-19.
Pascal Lumbala with Rexdale Community Health Centre said offering shots to young people is important to protecting families in areas with a lot of spread.
"I think it's really great that we have entire families coming out with the kids. This way, at least we can assume it's going to make the entire family safe," he said outside the busy clinic on Wednesday afternoon.
Lumbala said turnout at Tuesday and Wednesday pop-ups offering shots to teens was good, but organizers want to see more members of the community, which includes many immigrants and people of colour, coming out.
He said organizers are doing outreach with community and spiritual leaders in at-risk communities to spread the word about future clinics.
"We would like to focus more on word of mouth," he said. "We really hope it's going to have a strong impact."
Elsewhere in Ontario, Lambton Public Health opened vaccine access to the 12-and-older group on Tuesday to encourage families to get vaccinated together.
Timmins, Ont., is planning a "vaccine blitz" that will offer shots to all residents 12 and older this weekend, as the local health unit deals with a record surge in COVID-19 cases that's prompted a state of emergency in the northeastern city.
Drop-in and by-appointment clinics running Friday through Monday will use the Pfizer vaccine.
Dr. Lianne Catton, the region's top doctor, said 1,200 spots are available and encouraged people to share information about the clinics.
"Make no mistake we need everyone to stay home as much as possible, leave home for only essential reasons and follow the measures to stop the spread and get us out of this surge of cases," Catton said in a statement Wednesday. "However, vaccination of many community members across the ages is a tremendous opportunity to get there sooner."
Health units in the Guelph, Ont., and Chatham-Kent areas, meanwhile, are asking youth to pre-register for vaccine appointments to be contacted for appointments as they become available.
Chatham-Kent Public Health said it's working on a plan to run clinics for the 12-to-17 age group starting in mid-June.
In Toronto, some pop-up clinics started offering shots to youth aged 12 and older on Tuesday.
The city's top doctor, Dr. Eileen de Villa, said there will be more such initiatives in the next few weeks.
She added the city will also have appointments dedicated to youth vaccination the weeks of June 14 and 21.
Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador and the Northwest Territories have already started offering vaccine appointments to the 12-and-older population.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2021.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press