City officials defended Toronto’s pop-up vaccine clinic strategy Wednesday following criticism that the system has resulted in massive lineups that might be avoided by allocating more doses for appointments.

“Having overnight lineups is certainly not the intention,” Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa told reporters Wednesday at a briefing. “My understanding is that when it comes to the mobile and pop-up clinics and the partners who are overseeing their operations, there are a number of different line management strategies to help try to alleviate or avoid those kinds of instances or situations from arising.

“You know, I'm certainly interested to hear that this is happening. We'll bring it back to the table of our vaccination partners.”

Massive lineups have been reported at pop-up clinics in the city this week as thousands more people became eligible to receive a second vaccine dose as part of Ontario’s accelerated rollout. There were reports that some people started lining up as early as 1:30 a.m. to get a place in line at some pop-up clinics and CP24 spoke with some people who said they had waited in line for more than five hours to try get a dose.

The city has multiple channels for distributing COVID-19 vaccine doses, including mass immunization clinics, pop-up and mobile clinics, pharmacies and healthcare partner clinics, such as those at hospitals.

Each public health unit decides how doses will be allocated and the city has allotted a large share to the mobile and pop-up strategy in order to try bring doses to communities that are most at risk and most in need.

Reporters asked city officials Wednesday why, in light of the massive crowds lining up for doses, the city is not allocating more shots to mass immunization clinics which can be booked online.

Responding to questions from reporters, Fire Chief Matthew Pegg said the city has learned a great deal in the vaccine rollout so far from community partners and has found that the online booking model does not work for all populations in the city.

“While there is a certain segment of our population, a certain percentage of people, who prefer to access an online or a telephone booking system, book a confirmed appointment, arrive at a specific time, receive their vaccine and leave, that isn't necessarily the preferred option across our whole city,” Pegg said.

He said the city’s community ambassadors have “made it very clear” that in many communities, people feel more comfortable and are more likely to get vaccinated when there is a “community environment.”

He said people in many of Toronto’s communities want to get a vaccine “in a place they know where they are seeing and having the chance to be with members of their own community and family and friends who are both waiting and involved in the process of getting vaccinated as well as taking part in the operation of those clinics.”

He said the city needs to respect that diversity and make “as many different opportunities available as are possible.”

The city added around 90,000 new appointments to its nine mass immunization clinics this week in an effort to help meet increased demand as more supply comes in and as more people become eligible for an early second dose. 

Pegg said those clinics will be operating at 90 per cent capacity next week.

De Villa said Wednesday that nearly 75 per cent of Toronto residents 18 and over have now had a first dose and 20 per cent are fully vaccinated.