All adults can book COVID-19 vaccine at select Ontario hot-spot pharmacies
Province quietly announced expanded eligibility on booking web page on Friday
Nearly 140 pharmacies started offering COVID-19 vaccines to all adults in some Ontario virus hot spots this weekend, a shift made to align with provincial efforts to protect the most vulnerable amid a third wave of infections.
The province quietly announced the expanded eligibility on a provincial pharmacy vaccine booking web page on Friday afternoon.
The government website lists 78 pharmacy locations in Toronto and Peel Region that now offer the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to people aged 18 and older.
In Durham Region, Hamilton, Ottawa, Windsor and York Region, 58 pharmacies are offering the Moderna shot to anyone in that age group.
Vaccine-seekers can search by postal code to find local pharmacies administering shots and are advised to book online or contact pharmacy sites directly.
Justin Bates, CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association, said his organization had been working with the province to bring the mRNA shots to more pharmacies for some time, with Pfizer shots being offered at 16 initial locations a week earlier.
Prior to that, pharmacies had only been cleared to administer doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to those 40 and older.
Proof of residence in a hot spot not needed
The expanded age criteria of 18 and older was approved on Thursday, Bates said, to align with targeted neighbourhood and workplace clinics currently underway in the province.
Participating sites received vaccine shipments on Friday.
<a href="https://twitter.com/OntPharmacists?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@OntPharmacists</a> is pleased that after collaborating with the <a href="https://twitter.com/fordnation?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@fordnation</a> & <a href="https://twitter.com/celliottability?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@celliottability</a> govt, the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/pharmacy?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#pharmacy</a> Moderna vaccine & expanded Pfìzer program launches today. Eligibility in these hotspots is 18+. Providing access to essential workers & other populations.<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/pharmacists?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#pharmacists</a>—@justjbates
"Our hope is that we will continue to rapidly accelerate the program and add more of the mRNA vaccines across all pharmacies," Bates said by phone on Saturday.
"This certainly is going to help in terms of increasing access, convenience and options for Ontarians, and that's certainly a good thing."
People won't be asked to provide proof of their residence in a hot spot, Bates said, but pharmacists will need to verify recipients are at least 18 years old at the time of the shot.
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Participating pharmacies will receive 150 doses per week, Bates said, with plans to use wait lists and possibly accept walk-ins to ensure supply doesn't go to waste.
He said the goal is to have all pharmacies distributing the Moderna and Pfizer mRNA vaccines by mid-June, although the timeline depends on supply.
Some young adults quick to sign up
Despite the lack of an official government announcement about the expanded eligibility, some young adults in the province were quick to sign up as word spread on social media.
Natallia Richards of Ajax, Ont., was scrolling through Twitter early Saturday morning when she came across a series of posts sharing information about the expanded pharmacy age eligibility. She followed a link to the provincial web page, found a pharmacy location nearby and signed up for a vaccine wait list.
The 23-year-old said the process was surprisingly simple, adding she's relieved to finally be one step closer to an appointment.
"Obviously I'd like to make a physical appointment, but it just feels good that I can finally do this," she said by phone.
Although Richards doesn't live in a designated virus hot spot, she has asthma and interacts with household members who go into work regularly, so she had been eager to snap up an appointment.
"It's kind of scary to just sit there and wait," she said.
'We're going to remain flexible'
Bates said supplies of AstraZeneca doses were nearly depleted as of Saturday, with just three per cent remaining across participating pharmacies.
He said pharmacies are expecting more shots at some point, adding his association is awaiting forthcoming guidance from a national immunization panel on the prospect of mixing first and second doses from different vaccines.
If that happens, those pharmacies may start offering Pfizer or Moderna shots as second doses to AstraZeneca recipients.
"We're going to remain flexible," he said.