By Shawn Jeffords
TORONTO — Ontario will send half its available COVID-19 vaccines to hot spots for the next two weeks and expects to offer shots to all adults provincewide by the last week of May.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province is making the changes to its vaccine rollout as it overcomes serious supply issues that have plagued the effort since it launched.
A fresh influx of doses will allow Ontario to send half its vaccine supply to 114 postal codes identified as hot spots in the first two weeks of May, and will also permit the province to progress more quickly to new age groups, Elliott said.
“This will allow the province and our partners, to further accelerate our vaccine rollout and get more shots into arm,” she said. “This includes a focus on getting vaccines to those most at risk.”
The move to send half the vaccine supply to hot spots — which currently get 25 per cent of shots — follows a recommendation from the province’s science advisers to allocate shots based on transmission rate rather than age group.
The government said it will return to a per capita distribution for vaccines across the province on the week of May 17.
Officials said Ontario will begin to lower the age eligibility to book for mass vaccination clinics to 55 and older starting Friday.
If supply holds, the province expects to lower age eligibility for the vaccine throughout May, with access to book a first dose for those aged 18 and older forecast to start on the week of May 24.
“This is exciting news,” Elliott said. “The way out of the pandemic is vaccines, and a light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter every day.”
The government also said it will allow those with high-risk health conditions to get vaccinated at mass sites starting on Monday.
The changes come as the province expects to receive larger volumes of vaccines, largely from in the form of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot. The province is expected to receive over 4 million of those doses in May and more than 3.7 million in June.
Ontario is also starting a pilot project that will distribute the Pfizer vaccine through pharmacies in hot spots to people aged 55 and older.
That will start on Friday with eight pharmacies in Peel Region and eight in Toronto. The program is expected to expand to additional pharmacies and public health units in May, as supply allows.
The province says it has administered more than five million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine so far.
Ontario reported 3,871 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 41 new deaths, a figure that pushed the province’s overall death toll from the virus past 8,000.
The ministry of health says 2,248 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, with 884 in intensive care and 620 on a ventilator.
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