TORONTO, Ont. - The age threshold for individuals eligible to book a COVID-19 vaccine through the province’s online booking portal will be lowered to 55, while the provincial government anticipates all adults over the age of 18 can start booking appointments by the end of next month.
Those aged 55 and over can book an appointment starting Friday at 8 a.m. through the province's online booking system.
"This is exciting news," said Minister of Health Christine Elliott. "The way out of the pandemic is vaccines and the light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter every day. However, until the majority of Canadians receive both doses of the vaccine we must continue to follow all public health measures."
The provincial government is also anticipating vaccine supply to increase throughout the month of May and there are plans to reduce the age threshold throughout the month to younger individuals.
The age threshold is expected to be lowered to 50 and over the week of May 3, 40 and over by the week of May 10, and 30 and over by the week of May 17.
The goal is to open vaccine appointments to anyone over the age of 18 by May 24.
"We are encouraged by the news that Ontario’s vaccine supply from the federal government will increase throughout the month of May," said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones.
Vaccinations are also expected to open next week for essential workers who cannot work from home categorized in group one of the province’s vaccination rollout strategy.
Ontario will receive more than 800,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine at the beginning of the month, with an estimated 940,000 doses administered weekly.
For two weeks, 50 per cent of vaccine supply will be allocated for 114 high risk neighbourhoods. Following that two weeks, vaccine distribution will return to being based on population.
"We will not be taking away vaccines from other public health regions. Their allocations will remain the same as planned and increase later in May," Elliott said.
The province is also launching a new pilot project to make the Pfizer vaccine available in select pharmacies in the Toronto and Peel regions, with plans to possibly expand it to pharmacies in other parts of the province.
Pharmacies across Ontario are already offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to individuals over the age of 40, though supply of the vaccine remains uncertain, as some pharmacies, including those in Thunder Bay, are running out of doses.
"We don’t have a definite timeline as of day for distribution of AstraZeneca," Elliott said. "We do expect we will be receiving them at some point. What we are doing is continuing with our first vaccination shots for people and we have a pilot to bring forward Pfizer vaccines into pharmacies."
Jones added that the province is confident it will be able to move through the new age thresholds on a weekly basis throughout the month of May based on the increased supply and data collected on earlier vaccinations for older individuals.
"We want people to book as soon as their age bracket becomes available," she said.
"Because we started at 80 and above, we now have data that allows us to see how quickly with the vaccine supply we have and the interest there is in individuals wanting to get the vaccine, that we believe coupled with the large increase in supply we are seeing now coming through in May, we will be able to go down through those age brackets fairly quickly."
Dr. Janet DeMille, medical officer of health with the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, said the number of vaccines administered in the next week or so will be lower than previous weeks, but the district can expect to see increased shipments later in May.