With Ontario hitting the one-million mark for COVID-19 vaccinations today, the province said plans are in the works to step up the vaccine rollout plan across the province by getting pharmacies and physicians involved.
The details were outlined in a live teleconference Wednesday afternoon from the Toronto Congress Centre vaccination venue with Premier Doug Ford, health minister Christine Elliott and retired general Rick Hillier, who is in charge of the Ontario COVID-19 vaccination task force.
Ford said the Toronto vaccination clinic is just one example of more than 120 mass vaccination venues that will be open across Ontario before the end of March.
He said it would allow Ontario "the capacity to deliver up to 150,000 doses a day" dependent on supply from the federal government.
"This is an absolute game changer," said Ford. He added that on Tuesday, Ontario received 194,500 doses of the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine.
He said in order to deliver the vaccines as quickly as possible, more players on the rollout team are stepping up.
"As of Friday over 325 pharmacies will begin offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to Ontarians, between the ages of 60 and 64," said Ford.
He said the program will begin in three Southern Ontario public health unit areas, which includes Toronto, the Windsor and Essex areas and the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington areas.
Ford said there is an Ontario vaccine pharmacy search website for finding pharmacies that are participating. Currently there are no pharmacies listed for Northern Ontario.
Also beginning this coming weekend are a series of primary care locations, such as doctors' offices, where vaccines will be offered to patients aged 60 to 64. This takes place in Southern Ontario. Only the AstraZeneca vaccine will be provided.
Ford said the vaccine program keeps improving and he asked Ontario residents to please be patient.
Task force chair Rick Hillier said the other big development is the creation of an online appointment system.
"On Monday of next week our customer service desk and the online booking system will go live," said Hillier. He added that every other live vaccine booking system in Canada, and elsewhere in the world, has had problems.
Hillier said he expects some problems might creep up with the new Ontario system, but he too asked for patience.
"I ask all of you to give us a chance to roll that out," said Hillier. He added that it was vital that anyone not in line for a vaccine to stay away from the online web page and not to telephone the call centre.
"If you're not 80 years old on Monday or if you're not representing somebody who is 80 years old or older, please do not call the customer service desk, do not go online to check what is there and if you're in the media, stay off those sites," Hillier said.
He said it is important to let the right people have the chance to get through to book their appointments.
Hillier said Ontario is stepping up the rollout program owing to the fact that more vaccine choices are available and greater numbers are being delivered to Ontario.
On Friday, March 5, Health Canada also approved the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) COVID-19 vaccine for use in adults 18 years of age and over, said the Ministry of Health news release.
It said more information on Ontario’s distribution of this single-dose vaccine will be released shortly, pending guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) and more information from the federal government about provincial allocations.
Also, for the month of March, Ontario is expecting to receive 1,454,310 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 483,700 doses of the Moderna vaccine. The release said Ontario residents who are 80 and older and do not live in a congregate care setting, should be able to book a vaccine appointment through your public health unit.
PHSD also has a site where residents can register for vaccines. PHSD said “once you pre-register, you will be contacted to book an appointment when vaccine becomes available. Due to high demand and limited supply, pre-registering does not mean you will get an appointment immediately.”
Len Gillis is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at Sudbury.com, covering health care in Northern Ontario. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the federal government.