Toronto has received enough COVID-19 vaccines to open three of its mass immunization clinics two weeks earlier than scheduled, officials said Monday.
At a news conference on Monday, Toronto Mayor John Tory said the clinics will open early to vaccinate residents who are over the age of 80 starting on March 17. Smaller vaccination clinics have already been ramping up efforts across the city, but the mass sites will speed up the rollout.
“This vaccine news is great news — it’s fantastic news,” Tory said.
The three city-run clinics to open on March 17 are:
• Metro Toronto Convention Centre
• Scarborough Town Centre
• Toronto Congress Centre
The clinics will operate seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The city said it plans to have the remaining six city-run clinics open in the coming weeks, contingent upon vaccine supply being available.
When fully operational, more than 1,400 staff will run all nine city clinics, including vaccinators, nurses, screening staff, clerical and administrative staff and cleaners, Toronto Public Health said.
“These are exciting and promising times,” Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said about vaccine supply increasing, but she urged Torontonians to keep their guards up and continue following public health measures.
The city continues to ramp up vaccination efforts, with Toronto hospitals and community healthcare centres operating 17 clinics Monday, including mobile teams and in-site vaccinations, to vaccinate priority groups in their communities.
Over the weekend, 15 clinics were in operation, which brought the cumulative number of vaccine doses administered across the city to over 203,000, Toronto Public Health said in a news release Monday.
When vaccine supply increases and priority groups are vaccinated, the city will move on to vaccinating the general population at more than 350 clinics, including pharmacies and mobile clinics across Toronto.
The city’s vaccination efforts will follow the priority framework established by the province.
City launches interim vaccination booking site
Meanwhile, Toronto hospitals have launched an interim website where eligible residents can register and book an appointment for the COVID-19 vaccine as the city awaits the province’s centralized registration system to get up and running.
Toronto’s Board of Health chair Joe Cressy tweeted the news on Monday, saying this is “not an ideal situation”, but a necessary step.
Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg said the timing of this online portal is important and was implemented “to bridge a very small gap” between this week and March 15, which is when the province is expected to launch their centralized site.
The people who are currently eligible to pre-register or book appointments at hospital and health sector clinics include:
- People who are 80 years of age and older
- Priority health care workers
- Indigenous adults (16 and up)
- Adults receiving ongoing home care
Vaccinations at hospital and health sector clinics are by appointment only. Walk-ins or stand-by appointments are not available.
“People who are eligible under the above priority groups must only sign up at one vaccination clinic. If you book appointments at multiple clinics, all bookings may be cancelled,” Cressy tweeted.
Appointments can be made online or by phone via the call centre, which can be reached at 1-888-385-1910.
On Monday, Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg announced “much larger” supplies of both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines will be delivered to city operated and partner health clinics.
Clinics will receive vaccine doses as followed:
• Week of March 15 – 17,500 doses
• Week of March 22 – 98,920 doses
• Week of March 29 – 174,200 doses
• Week of April 5 – 80,730 doses
• Week of April 12 – 80,730 doses.
The city said it plans to increase the number of vaccines that can be administered monthly from 500,000 to approximately 975,000 as vaccine availability permits.
Pegg also said the possibility of 24-hour vaccination clinics — something city councillors have asked for — relies heavily on vaccine supply.
40% of city’s cases screened as variant of concern
Dr. Eileen de Villa said that almost 40 per cent the city’s reported COVID-19 cases are now being screened positive as a variant of concern.
To date, 2,004 cases have screened positive for variants of concern. A week ago, de Villa said that number was 1,179.
“We have come perilously close to doubling this count in a week,” she said, adding that she’s also worried about potential effects of variants on vaccines.
“Vaccines are powerful, but not beyond challenge.”
De Villa said the city of Toronto saw 636 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, (though the province has flagged there may be a data issue at play.)
“There were some challenges experienced by our provincial counterparts today on the data system. This is unfortunate but I know they have worked very hard…to correct things as quickly as possible.”
The city also saw four more people with COVID-19 die.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 sits at 257, with 53 of those in intensive care.
City moves into grey-level lockdown
The province’s final stay-at-home orders were lifted in three regions Monday, including Toronto, shifting it back into the grey-level lockdown.
Under the grey lockdown tier of the framework, non-essential stores can open at 25 per cent capacity while indoor dining, gyms and hair salons remain closed.
When asked how important it is for Toronto’s economy to have non-essential retail stores reopen today, he said it is “very, very important” both in the context of the state of businesses and of the public’s well being.
Tory said the last thing he wants to do is re-open now and then close again.
“That would be the worst nightmare scenario for most businesses.”
In response to a question about the Centres for Disease and Control Prevention’s announcement Monday saying vaccinated adults can gather indoors without a mask in the U.S., de Villa said she expects guidance on this front to be provided shortly from the provincial level.
But she said as it stands, remaining distanced from others is the best course of action.
“There’s reason for optimism and hope and all the more reason for us to push through the last little bit.”