'We need you to respond': Toronto urges older residents to sign up for COVID-19 vaccinations

A majority of Toronto residents aged 80 and older have not yet received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, prompting a plea from the city for more seniors to register for immunization.

Toronto now booking vaccine appointments for all residents 70 and older

Toronto Mayor John Tory says relatives of older residents should help them register for vaccines, if they are having trouble doing so themselves. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

A majority of Toronto residents aged 80 and older have not yet received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, prompting a plea from the city for more seniors to register for immunization.

Mayor John Tory made the request during an unexpected Friday afternoon news conference.

"We are vaccinating thousands of people a day in the city but we now have the capacity for more," Tory said. "We need you to respond now."

According to the figures provided by Toronto Public Health, 48.3 per cent of the city's residents aged 80 and older — a total of 79,541 — have received their first vaccine dose as of March 25, while 8.8 per cent of that group has received both shots.

Provincewide, about 75 per cent of Ontario residents have received their first dose or signed up for immunization, suggesting that Toronto's seniors may be disproportionately at risk of contracting the novel coronavirus.

Among residents between 75 and 79, 21.2 per cent have received their first dose.

After lagging behind other parts of the Greater Toronto Area, such as York Region, the city says it has now adequately expanded its vaccine capacity to inoculate many more of its oldest and most vulnerable residents.

The city's mass immunization clinics are also now accepting appointments for anyone 70 and older and have the ability to deliver 30,000 shots next week.

Toronto has administered 426,056 COVID-19 vaccine doses and 9.8 per cent of the city's population has received at least one dose. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Tory urged older residents to book their appointments, and also asked their family members to help and even "persuade" them to do so.

"It's time for themselves, it's time for their neighbours and their families and it's time for the overall war effort we have going on," Tory said.

Vaccine process 'needlessly complex,' advocate says

Toronto community health advocates and groups that work with seniors have pointed to a variety of obstacles that may be contributing to the slower-than-expected uptake of vaccines so far.

Those factors include: an inability to book appointments online, difficulty accessing mass vaccination clinics, and general confusion around eligibility and how vaccines are being administered.

"It's becoming complex, needlessly complex," said Elizabeth Macnab, executive director of the Ontario Society of Senior Citizens Organizations.

"If the goal is for everybody in Ontario to get vaccinated, then make it as easy as possible. Bring your birth certificate, proof of where you live, a phone number, roll up your sleeve and get a shot."

Macnab said lower income seniors are more likely to experience barriers to vaccination, especially when it comes to technology and comfort booking appointments.

Toronto says it is making changes that will make it easier older residents to book their vaccination appointments.

This week, the city announced a new pilot program that will provide transportation to mass immunization clinics for some residents 75 and older. The TTC and Uber will take part in the program.

Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg, who is leading the city's COVID-19 emergency response, promised older residents a comfortable experience at the city's mass clinics.

He said early issues that resulted in lineups outside the clinics and other logistical problems have been resolved.

"From the time you arrive, we will help you move through the process," Pegg said.

"If you require assistance mobility-wise, we are prepared to do that. It is seamless. It is organized. It will be quick for you."