Hundreds of thousands of Torontonians aged 40 to 49 become eligible to get Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at city-run clinics starting at 8 a.m. Thursday.
The expansion of who can make vaccine appointments at the nine clinics across the city in the provincial booking system adds more than 300,000 residents to a list that was, after a series of adjustments, open citywide to those aged 50 and older.
Torontonians can book via the city website by clicking the blue button at toronto.ca/home/covid-19/ or by calling the provincial vaccine booking line 1-833-943-3900.
City clinics are part of the biggest vaccination effort in Toronto history, including hospitals and community health organizations that have lowered their vaccination eligibility age to 18 in 53 postal codes designated as virus hot spots.
An additional 50,000 appointments are being added for May 17 to 23 to accommodate an expected surge in bookings at the city clinics which, unlike mobile and pop-up vaccination operations, require people to book beforehand.
Mayor John Tory told a Wednesday briefing that Toronto has become the first Canadian city with 1.5 million of vaccine doses administered. More than half of adult Torontonians have had a first dose but less than 4 per cent are fully vaccinated.
While officials had to beg residents to make appointments when the age eligibility was higher, appointments for city clinics are now filling up fast, with more than 15,000 people booking between Monday and Wednesday.
“There is increasing momentum in the vaccine campaign …,” Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s public health chief, told reporters.
“We are not long now from seeing how the protection the vaccines provide begins to meaningfully turn the (pandemic) tide in our favour.”
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Toronto’s new daily infections and new hospitalizations have fallen steadily since hitting a pandemic high April 16, easing pressure on the health care system.
Officials credit Toronto’s vaccination success to their strategy that aims much of the local vaccine supply at neighbourhoods with people most vulnerable to the virus including essential workers and those with crowded living conditions.
Tory and other local leaders in the GTA-Hamilton region urged the Ontario to government to extend by two weeks extra vaccine supply aimed last week and this week at virus hot spots including many in Toronto and Peel Region.
Fire Chief Matthew Pegg, overseeing Toronto’s vaccine rollout, said the province returning to strictly per-capita distribution of vaccine across Ontario could reduce doses for city clinics from about 98,000 this week to about 60,000 doses later.
Tory said: “What heals people and stops the spread of this virus, and makes people healthier in the city of Toronto and the Toronto region, will be good for all of Ontario,” by reducing overall spread and helping end the pandemic quicker.
A spokesperson for Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, who is overseeing the provincial vaccine rollout, said the extra vaccine for hot spots will end this week but the overall increase in Pfizer supplies should prevent drops in vaccinations.
“We are able to increase the allocation of vaccines distributed to hot spot communities to 50 per cent of all vaccines for the weeks of May 3 and May 10 …,” Stephen Warner said in an email. “After the week of May 10, all vaccines will be allocated based on population.”
Vaccine supplies for May are double those of April, he added, saying the province’s plan ensures that public health units “will not have any vaccines taken away and will not have to cancel appointments that were already booked for the upcoming four weeks.”
The rollout plan, he said, also commits “significant new resources to hot spot neighbourhoods based on a significant increase in supply both during the reallocation period and afterwards.”
David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider
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