Ontario to open COVID-19 vaccine appointments to residents 75 and older next week
Pharmacies to give AstraZeneca vaccine to residents aged 60 and older
Ontarians aged 75 and older can start scheduling COVID-19 vaccine appointments through the province's booking portal on Monday, and pharmacies will begin offering the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to residents aged 60 and above.
Premier Doug Ford made the announcement at a morning news conference at a pharmacy in Etobicoke.
Adults aged 75 and older were set to become eligible by the first week of April, but the province is moving ahead because more than half of residents 80 and older have now gotten at least one dose of a vaccine, Ford said.
"Thanks to the efforts of an army of front-line health-care heroes and volunteers, we are getting needles in arms even faster than we had imagined," Ford told reporters.
The number of people in that over-80 age group booking appointments has also started to dwindle in recent days, he said.
According to the province, as of 8 p.m. on March 18, over 348,000 Ontarians born in 1941 or earlier had received at least one dose of vaccine. That means 51.3 per cent of seniors over 80 have received at least one vaccination.
A senior government official also told CBC News that overall, just 65 per cent of this age group has either had at least one dose, or booked an appointment to get a vaccine.
WATCH | Premier Doug Ford discusses how Ontario is expanding its vaccine rollout:
A pilot program offering vaccines in some pharmacies is also expanding provincewide and will now offer the AstraZeneca shot to anyone aged 60 and older.
The pharmacy project previously only offered the shot to those aged 60 to 64, but the government is expanding it after new guidelines deemed the shot safe for those 65 and older.
There are currently 327 pharmacies in three public health units — Toronto, Windsor-Essex and Kingston, Frontenac and Addington & Lennox — participating in the pilot program. In the next week, that number will nearly double to about 700 pharmacies across Ontario, said retired general Rick Hillier. Hillier is chair of Ontario's COVID-19 vaccine task force, though he is set to leave the role at the end of March.
Several weeks from now, more than 1,500 pharmacies will be offering vaccines, Hillier said. He did not say how residents of health units outside of the pilot project will be told when a pharmacy near them is taking appointments.
The province also plans to eventually begin offering the Moderna vaccine through pharmacies, though Hillier did not provide a specific timeline.
To date, about 91,000 people have received a first dose of a vaccine at a pharmacy, Ford said.
Ontario administered a record-high 61,146 doses of vaccines yesterday, according to the Ministry of Health. A total of 294,749 people in the province have now gotten both shots.
Ford again this morning reiterated that he is frustrated with the vaccine supply schedule set by the federal government, saying Ontario is giving out doses "at a fraction" of its total capacity.
"If we opened up everything, I mean full-tilt, we could do as high as nine million (doses) per month," he said.
1,745 new cases of COVID-19 reported today
Meanwhile, public health units reported another 1,745 cases of COVID-19 and the deaths of 10 more people with the illness.
With the exception of one day earlier this month on which the daily count was artificially inflated due to a data cleanup, this is the most new infections reported on a single day in Ontario since Feb. 2.
The new cases include 478 in Toronto, 344 in Peel Region, 174 in York Region and 116 in Hamilton.
They come as labs completed 56,134 tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and logged a positivity rate of 3.3 per cent.
The seven-day average climbed to 1,480, its highest point since Feb. 5.
According to Critical Care Services Ontario (CCSO), a government agency that compiles a daily report for hospitals and health organizations, there were 364 people with COVID-19 in the province's intensive care units as of yesterday. Twenty-eight of those patients had been admitted in the previous 24 hours.
Concurrent admissions of COVID-19 patients to ICUs in Ontario peaked in mid-January at around 420, the CCSO says.
There is a growing consensus among health experts and infectious disease specialists that Ontario has entered a third wave of the pandemic, driven primarily by variants of concern that are more transmissible and more likely to cause serious illness.
Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table, a group of experts that advises the government on its pandemic response, calculates that variants currently account for about 54 per cent of all new cases.
Doctors in the Greater Toronto Area told CBC News that, anecdotally, they are starting to see more younger people with severe infections coming to hospitals.
"We're at a real risk right now of the variants of concern taking off, and that prime age group of 40 to 75 being hit really hard by this wave, particularly with the variants being more likely to cause serious illness that requires more hospitalization," said Dr. Brooks Fallis, a critical care physician in Peel Region, west of Toronto.
The increase in the prevalence of variants has coincided with the staggered reopening of public health units in the province.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said today that provincial officials are watching hospitalization figures closely and that the province is prepared for an "upswing" in patients needing critical care.
A total of 10,995 samples that tested positive for COVID-19 in Ontario have also screened positive for the tell-tale genetic mutation that indicates the presence of a variant, including 704 more yesterday.
The additional deaths in today's update push the official death toll to 7,212.
With files from Lauren Pelley