Toronto officials want more pharmacies in hard hit areas to get COVID-19 vaccines

·4 min read
Volunteer Danny Cassidy gives the thumbs up to a newly-vaccinated person at a Scarborough Health Network mass vaccination clinic at Centennial College, in Toronto, on March 19, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
Volunteer Danny Cassidy gives the thumbs up to a newly-vaccinated person at a Scarborough Health Network mass vaccination clinic at Centennial College, in Toronto, on March 19, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

Mayor John Tory says Toronto Public Health has made a list of pharmacies in areas hit hard by COVID-19 and is urging the province to send vaccines to those neighbourhoods as the city reported 509 new cases on Monday.

The call comes after CBC Toronto highlighted the fact that the first pharmacies to offer AstraZeneca's COVID vaccine to those 60-plus were not located in several Toronto hot spots, most notably the city's northwest.

In the Humber River-Black Creek area, for example, NDP MPP Tom Rakocevic said only one of 39 pharmacies there is offering vaccinations.

Premier Doug Ford said on Monday the province will soon expand the number of pharmacies offering vaccinations. It's unclear when that will happen.

Ford said the pharmacy pilot project, running at 327 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 AstraZeneca vaccine.

In an email on Monday, the Ontario health ministry said the number of participating pharmacy locations will increase to roughly 700 in the next two weeks. That number is expected to increase to about 1,500 by the end of April.

"Additionally, as part of our second phase of the vaccine roll out, we have also identified hot spot areas in select public health units based on historic and ongoing high rates of COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations and transmission," the ministry said.

The ministry said 13 public health units will receive more vaccines, allowing them to target hot spots and ensuring the doses get to the most vulnerable people.

Solicitor General Sylvia Jones told reporters that hot spots weren't forgotten but the province was limited by vaccine supply and an April 2 expiry date for the first doses.

WATCH | CBC's Lauren Pelley reports on a growing push by the city to ensure that the next phase of the vaccine rollout ends inequities.

Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city's medical officer of health, said at a Toronto board of health meeting on Monday that her team drew up a list of pharmacies that are able to offer COVID-19 vaccines in hard-hit areas. These pharmacies have a history of offering flu vaccines, she added.

"We have provided that list to the province to let them know that, as you expand your pharmacy channel, you should absolutely in the city of Toronto make sure that you are expanding preferentially in these neighbourhoods because they're underrepresented," she said.

At the city news briefing on Monday, de Villa said Toronto is now averaging 450 new COVID-19 cases per day — growth driven by variants of concern.

"Our outbreak is growing," she said, noting the reproduction number for the virus is now 1.1.

There were no additional deaths in the last day, but dozens of people remain in intensive care units in the city.

City opening mass vaccination site for Thorncliffe Park

The city continues to work on its vaccine rollout and said in a news release that 374,631 doses have now been administered.

On Wednesday, the city announced plans to open its newest mass vaccination site at the East York Town Centre, which will focus on serving the Thorncliffe Park community.

The city said in the release that it will administer 1,200 doses of COVID vaccine on day one at the site. In the future, the city is hoping the site will administer 10,000 vaccines per day.

Appointments at the site are already being offered.

Tory continued to urge anyone who is eligible to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

"We are doing everything we can" to ramp up vaccinations, Tory said, noting the rollout is still primarily determined by supply issues.

If you're eligible for a vaccine — that's if you're over the age of 60 — and trying to get one, CBC Toronto's vaccine guide may be able to help.

Toronto has seen 509 new COVID cases in the last day — the most anywhere in Ontario, according to the latest provincial data.

The city remains in the grey-lockdown zone of the province's COVID reopening framework, but some rules have been relaxed so activities such as outdoor dining can resume.