March 19, 2021, Premier Doug Ford and Chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force, General Rick Hillier (retired) provided an update on the province’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout. As part of today’s update, Premier Ford announced that, beginning Monday, March 22, the province’s online booking system will begin accepting vaccination appointments for adults aged 75 and older.
Additionally, as of March 22, participating pharmacies and primary care settings will begin accepting vaccination appointments for adults aged 60 and older. The province’s pharmacy vaccine pilot, currently operating in 327 pharmacies across three public health units, will be expanded to 700 locations province-wide over the coming weeks.
Premier Ford and General Hillier were joined by Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott. Following this morning’s update, Premier Ford, General Hillier, and Minister Elliott responded to questions from media.
Other announcements made today include $106.4 million in support for publicly assisted colleges and universities, to help these institutions address the financial impacts of COVID-19, and more than $2 million to support Francophone tourism across the province.
Update on Ontario’s Vaccination Plan
Today, Premier Ford and General Hillier provided an update on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Ontario, while visiting a pharmacy in Etobicoke.
Premier Ford noted that pharmacies have been crucial in helping Ontario quickly ramp up capacity to administer vaccines. As of yesterday, more than half of those aged 80 and older in the province have received a first dose of the vaccine. The province is also expected to surpass the 1.5 million mark for total doses administered today.
Further, Premier Ford announced that Ontario is ready to move to the next step of its vaccine rollout, approximately two weeks ahead of schedule. As of Monday, March 22, the provincial booking system will begin accepting vaccination appointments for residents aged 75 and older.
According to General Hillier, the province decided to expand eligibility to those aged 75 and older once the rate of appointment bookings for those aged 80 and older began to slow.
Update on Vaccination in Pharmacies
The current vaccination pilot project in pharmacies will also be scaled up over the coming weeks, to include 700 locations province-wide. By late April, approximately 1,500 pharmacies across the province will be administering vaccines. Depending on vaccine supply, retail pharmacies could administer up to 40 per cent of all vaccinations by the end of April. Details on additional pharmacy locations and the application process for pharmacy participation will be shared in the coming days.
Effective Monday, pharmacies and primary care settings may begin booking appointments for individuals aged 60 and older to receive a vaccine. According to Premier Ford, this is intended to fill the gap for older adults who wish to receive a vaccine, but who are not yet eligible to sign up through the provincial booking system.
General Hillier expressed confidence in the province’s ability to expand its pharmacy vaccination campaign, as a result of the anticipated increase in supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine over the coming weeks, as well as new guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), which enables this vaccine to be administered to Canadians aged 65 and older.
Questions from Media
Public Health Restrictions
In response to questions about possible public health restrictions to address the third wave of COVID-19, Premier Ford confirmed that Cabinet would be meeting this afternoon to address this issue. According to a report from 680 News, the government is making changes to the COVID-19 Response Framework in order to permit outdoor dining at restaurants in regions classified at the Grey-Lockdown level. In regions at the Grey level, outdoor dining will only be permitted with members of the same household.
Minister Elliott added that Ontarians must remain cautious, particularly in light of the rise in variant cases, which now make up more than 40 per cent of all COVID-19 cases.
Vaccination Timelines for Younger Cohorts
When asked about timelines for the next cohort (those aged 70 and older) to be eligible to book an appointment through the provincial booking system, General Hillier responded that eligibility will be expanded to the next group as soon as bookings for those currently eligible begin to taper off. He estimated that eligibility will be expanded to adults in the 70 to 74 age range in “early April.”
Concerns re: Vaccine Shopping
In response to questions about whether the government has plans to combat “vaccine shopping,” whereby individuals opt for one vaccine over another, General Hillier emphasized that “the best vaccine is the one you can get right now.”
Minister Elliott elaborated, noting that all three vaccines currently being used in the province have been validated by Health Canada and NACI. Minister Elliott also addressed recent concerns related to the AstraZeneca vaccine, noting that Health Canada found no causal relationship between that vaccine and blood clots.