“Thanks to the tireless efforts of our frontline health care workers, we are getting needles in arms as quickly as possible and have now administered over 2.6 million vaccines,” Premier Doug Ford said. “As soon as vaccines arrive our focus is turning to the communities hit hardest by COVID-19 and those with the highest-risk health conditions. With the extraordinary work of Team Ontario we aim to deliver over 9 million vaccinations across Ontario by the end of June.”
Phase Two is focused on age and at-risk populations to prevent further death, hospitalization and transmission. To support this, Ontario is increasing vaccine allocations to COVID-19 “hot spot” communities across 13 public health units, targeting historic and ongoing areas with high rates of death, hospitalization and transmission. Delivering vaccines to people who live in these areas is critical to reducing the impact of COVID-19 as quickly as possible, and the Ministry of Health is working with public health units to ensure timely access to vaccines among the identified communities through all available vaccine delivery channels, including pharmacies, mass vaccination clinics, and mobile teams. The province is supporting regions to vaccinate individuals aged 50 and over by postal code in these COVID-19 hot spot zones.
In addition, starting as early as April 6, individuals with the following highest-risk health conditions will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccination in Ontario: organ transplant recipients; hematopoietic stem cell transplant recipients; people with neurological diseases in which respiratory function may be compromised (e.g., motor neuron disease, myasthenia gravis, multiple sclerosis); Haematological malignancy diagnosed less than one year ago; Kidney disease eGFR< 30; and essential caregivers for individuals in these groups.
Patients with the specific health conditions noted above, as well as their essential caregiver will be identified for vaccination due to an increased risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19, regardless of age. The province is expecting to reach the majority of this group through hospital clinics by the end of April 2021. Patients in the highest-risk clinical groups will be contacted by their health care providers to set up an appointment for a vaccination. The Ministry of Health is working with Ontario Health, as well as networks like the Ontario Renal Network and other clinical organizations and vaccination partners, to identify and vaccinate these patients and their caregivers as soon as possible.
“As we continue our fight against COVID-19, it is critical that we continue to ramp up capacity to protect our vulnerable populations and those with the highest-risk health conditions,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said. “While we have recently implemented a provincewide emergency brake to protect Ontarians and limit transmission, vaccines remain our best defense against COVID-19 and the variants. With more supply expected to arrive, we encourage everyone to sign up when it’s their turn.”
On March 15, Ontario launched its provincial booking system and call centre to support COVID-19 vaccination appointment bookings at mass immunization clinics. The system has already supported the immunization of other groups identified in Phase Two, including individuals aged 70 and over, with many public health units using the provincial booking system to offer appointments to individuals aged 60 and over beginning on April 7. Public health units that are currently not on the provincial booking system and wish to use the system will continue to be onboarded throughout the month.
Other groups that will become eligible to receive vaccines as part of Phase Two of the Ontario immunization program include: individuals with specific health conditions which make them at high-risk or at-risk, as well as some primary caregivers; people who live and work in congregate settings and some primary caregivers; and certain workers who cannot work from home (e.g., elementary/secondary school staff, food manufacturing workers, high-risk and critical retail workers, and more).
Ontario continues to work with public health units to offer vaccines to remaining Phase One populations. Public health units have been directed to consider accessibility issues in their plans and have local solutions, as well as work with community partners to develop executive strategies to remove barriers to access and improve uptake in at-risk communities.
“As we begin Phase Two of our immunization rollout, we will first focus our efforts to protect those with the highest-risk health conditions and certain essential caregivers,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones. “Over the past year, Ontarians have made great sacrifices, and we can only stop the spread of COVID-19 through our continued collective actions. Please stay home unless absolutely necessary and follow public health measures.”
Those eligible based on their age are strongly encouraged to schedule a vaccination appointment by visiting Ontario.ca/bookvaccine, or by calling the Provincial Vaccine Booking Line number at 1-833-943-3900. For general inquiries, individuals can call the Provincial Vaccine Information Line number at 1-888-999-6488. The Provincial Vaccine Booking Line and Information Line are open Monday to Sunday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and is capable of providing assistance in 300 languages.
Pharmacies and primary care settings participating in the rollout have extended COVID-19 vaccination booking to individuals aged 55 and over as of April 3, with over 350 additional pharmacies and more primary care settings offering the AstraZeneca vaccine. This brings the total number of pharmacies offering the vaccine to nearly 700 and it is expected that this will reach approximately 1,500 in April.