Ottawa

Vaccination slots fill up fast as eligibility lowered to 40

Ontarians as young as 40 are now eligible to receive the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, but as many are discovering, getting the jab is still no easy task.

Appointments for AstraZeneca vaccine at local pharmacies didn't last long Monday

The AstraZeneca vaccine is now available at some pharmacies and family doctors' offices to people 40 and over in Ontario. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Ontarians as young as 40 are now eligible to receive the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, but as many are discovering, getting the jab is still no easy task.

Alison Harding-Hlady is among some 200,000 Ottawans who suddenly became eligible Sunday when the minimum age for general vaccination was lowered from 55.

Harding-Hlady said the minute she found out via Twitter, she began adding her name to pharmacy wait-lists. By Monday, she had confirmed her appointment two days later at a local Pharmasave.

"I do very much feel that I just got lucky," said Harding-Hlady, who already had experience booking vaccination appointments for her parents and grandparents.

"I really feel for people that don't have that level of media savvy and computer savvy and don't speak English. All of these things are affecting who gets vaccinated and how quickly."

The Ontario government lowers the age so that people as young as 40 are now eligible to receive the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at pharmacies and primary care settings. One Ottawa woman shares how she got her appointment. 7:42

'Help as many people as you can'

Available appointments, which begin Tuesday, filled up rapidly Monday, and by the afternoon some pharmacies in Ottawa were no longer taking bookings.

The volunteer group Vaccine Hunters Canada has been posting available appointments on social media to help people get vaccinated.

Volunteer Joshua Kalpin said the lowering of the age of eligibility for the AstraZeneca vaccine in Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba has kept the group busy.

"It's just non-stop," he said. "Our messages are exploding with pharmacy tips. We're having trouble keeping up with them, to be honest."

Kalpin said the group was able to help book enough appointments that they "cleaned out" Sobeys and Walmart by Sunday night. He estimates they've helped tens of thousands of Canadians get vaccinated.

A vial of AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine at an Ottawa pharmacy in early April 2021. (Rémi Authier/Radio-Canada)

Kalpin urged those who are more tech-savvy to help those who aren't.

"Reach out to people who you think might have trouble with computers, [or] English might not be their first language, [or who are] essential workers, and help them," he suggested.

"If you're eligible, you should sign up for a vaccine. You should not feel guilty about it, but if you do feel guilty about it ... help as many people as you can."

Email preferred, pharmacist says

Barrhaven pharmacist Vijay Shukla said his business has been deluged with requests for appointments, both online and on the phone.

"Our site got crashed a few times," Shukla said. "Phone calls are overwhelming. We can't do anything at the pharmacy if people keep on calling. I understand there may be many questions, but better to email."

Shukla said he already had about 50 appointments booked by people 55 and older on Monday, and was steadily working his way through his stock of 200 AstraZeneca doses. He's ordered 300 more, and is expecting them in the next few days.

The Ontario Pharmacists Association said current AstraZeneca stocks should last until next month. The association said any spoilage has been due to cancelled appointments, because an open vial containing 10 doses only lasts 48 hours in a fridge.

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