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Ontario health units urge patience amid vax demand surge as all adults now eligible

Last Updated May 18, 2021 at 2:14 pm EDT

People arrive at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Toronto on April 28, 2021. (Xinhua/Zou Zheng via Getty Images)

Ontario health units urged patience as they rapidly ran out of COVID-19 vaccine appointments hours after adults across the province became eligible to book a shot on Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for the premier’s office said more than 183,000 vaccine appointments were booked within the first two hours of expanded eligibility, which took effect at 8 a.m.

Health units and municipalities across the province said they needed more supply to meet skyrocketing demand.

“Eligibility has outpaced supply, and we simply do not have enough vaccines to keep up with demand. All available appointments are now booked,” Ottawa Public Health wrote in a mid-morning tweet.

“We acknowledge how frustrating this is. We anticipate more appointments will open when more vaccine becomes available.”

The City of Hamilton also acknowledged residents’ frustration as it said there were “limited or no appointments” at some mass clinics.

Local health units in Kingston, Ont., and London, Ont., said they needed more vaccine supply to meet high demand. London’s top doctor said his health unit would have 24,000 doses for a population more than five times that size.

“I’m sorry in advance for the frustrating situation of limited vaccine supply,” Dr. Chris Mackie wrote on social media Monday night. “If at first you don’t succeed, please try again.”

Health Minister Christine Elliott brushed off criticism that the province had expanded eligibility too fast, saying an initial rush of bookings and long waits were seen every time the government opened bookings to more residents.

“It’s probably just part of that normal crush that you see when we open a new age band,” Elliott said. “It’s good news, in the sense that people are anxious to receive the vaccine.”

The province was initially supposed to expand vaccine eligibility only to those aged 30 and older this week but said Monday that an early vaccine shipment allowed it to open shots to all adults.

Mayors of the largest cities in the Hamilton and Toronto areas had called for greater vaccine supply on Monday in order to keep up with the expected surge in demand. That came after the province shifted back to allocating vaccines on a per capita basis following two weeks of sending half its supply to hot spots.

Elliott said Tuesday that more incoming vaccine shipments that will allow more people to book appointments soon.

Ontario’s vaccine effort had been criticized initially for a slow and bumpy start. The rollout ramped up in recent weeks and the government has said it aims to have all eligible adults fully vaccinated by the end of September.

The province has also said it plans to start vaccinating children aged 12 and older with the Pfizer-BioNTech shot from May 31 onwards.

Lambton Public Health in southwestern Ontario announced Tuesday that it would start taking vaccine appointments for youth aged 12 and older, or those turning 12 this year.

Tuesday’s immunization expansion came as the province’s daily case rate continued to decline.

Ontario reported 1,616 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and 17 more deaths linked to the virus. The data was based on over 22,900 completed tests.

The Ministry of Health said there were 1,484 people are in hospital with the virus, including 764 in intensive care and 559 on ventilators.

The province remains under a stay-at-home order that was recently extended to June 2 but Elliot said Tuesday that the government had begun to develop its economic re-opening plan.

She said ministries across the government are working on the strategy with Ontario’s chief medical officer of health that would be released “very soon.”

“It’s also sector-specific, looking at what different types of sectors (can) perhaps be reopened, and what their specific needs and timelines are as well,” she said.

While cases were trending down in southern Ontario hotspots, the northern city of Timmins, Ont., declared a state of emergency in response to “rapid and un-checked spread of COVID-19” in his community.

The Porcupine Health Unit called on the province to recognize Timmins as a hot spot to ensure greater supply of vaccines and support for testing and an isolation community centre.