Every adult in Ontario will be able to book a COVID-19 vaccine appointment through the provincial portal by around May 24, with a dramatic increase in anticipated supply also allowing them to divert 50 per cent of all incoming doses to hot spot neighbourhoods for two weeks in May.

Health bureaucrats told reporters on background on Thursday that the age eligibility for using the provincial booking system will drop to 55+ on Friday, 50+ on the week of May 3, 40+ on the week of May 10, 30+ by the week of May 17 and all the way down to those 18 and up by the week of May 24.

The expansion also makes eligible all essential workers and people with complex health issues, including all pregnant women and their partners, by May 10.

Every adult in any of the province's 114 hot spot neighbourhoods, as identified by the forward sorting area section of their postal codes, will be eligible to book an appointment by May 3.

The province says it will receive nearly 800,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for each week in May, increasing to 940,000 per week for each week in June.

They also expect another shipment of 388,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine on May 10.

“This will allow the province and our partners to accelerate our vaccine rollout and get more shots into arms,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said later on Thursday.

A senior health official said the dramatic increase in vaccine supplies means that the province’s original target of administering at least one dose to 75 per cent of adults by June 21 is “achievable and possibly beatable.”

The plan released Thursday does not even involve using any Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses, of which 300,000 arrived in the country this week and 116,000 would be destined for Ontario if allocated based on population.

The federal government has not yet announced how it will allocate the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

In a bid to administer another one million doses to residents and workers in hot spot postal codes, half of all doses received by the province between May 3 and May 17 will be sent to 114 hotspot postal codes.

“This targeted, time-limited approach is designed to reduce COVID 19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths that are most at risk communities,” Elliott said. “At the same time, and increased supply of vaccines mean we will not be taking away vaccines from other regions, their allocations will remain the same as previously planned and will increase later in May.”

Last week, the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table recommended the province adjust its vaccine distribution strategy to send 50 per cent of all incoming doses to a more narrow list of 74 neighbourhoods in the province deemed to be “hotspots” for coronavirus transmission for a period of 25 days.

The epidemiologists said the adjustment in strategy could lead to 1,700 fewer hospitalizations and at least 500 fewer deaths due to COVID-19 over a 30-day period.

The current provincial strategy allocated just one quarter of all doses to hotspots.

After May 17, officials said vaccine distribution will return to a purely per capita allocation, but supplies in all public health units will be much greater than today simply by virtue of increased supply.

The opposition NDP pointed out that the Science Table asked for a narrower list of hotspots, just 74 versus the 114 identified by the province, and asked for the 50 per cent allocation to last at least 25 days, rather than two weeks.

“We need a concentration of vaccines aimed right at hotspots until those blazing COVID-19 fires are under control,” deputy party leader Sara Singh said. “Instead, Doug Ford is spreading those doses out over 114 postal codes — some of which are not hotspots — and time limiting this action for a pathetically inadequate two weeks.”

Before the week of May 24 comes around, the province is planning a major widening of eligibility due to health conditions and essential workers.

Pregnant women, transplant recipients and severe kidney disease sufferers will be eligible to book an appointment this week.

People with a body mass index of more than 40, chemotherapy patients and those with Down syndrome will be able to book appointments on the week of May 3.

Others including stroke survivors, all other cancer patients, autoimmune disorder suffers and those with diabetes, liver or heart disease can start to book on the portal on May 10.

Essential workers covered by the rollout are divided into two groups.

The first group, including all teachers and education workers, agricultural workers, first responders, government labour and building inspectors, food manufacturing and distribution centre workers will be eligible to book appointments starting next week.

On May 10, a second tranche of essential workers including truck drivers, electricity sector workers, essential retail and manufacturing workers, restaurant employees, justice system employees, social workers and sanitation workers become eligible to book vaccine appointments.

Officials said the booking portal’s capabilities have been increased several times since its launch last month, and they are confident they are ready to handle the flood of traffic it will receive from newly eligible Ontarians in May.

Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said the experience with older age cohorts in the system gives them confidence they will be able to handle the increase in demand for bookings in May.

“We now have some historical data that, that allows us to see how quickly with the vaccine supply that we have and the interest that there is in individuals wanting to get that vaccine,” she said. “We believe coupled with the, the large increase in supply that we are seeing now coming through in the month of May, that we will be able to go down through those age brackets fairly quickly.”

Pfizer vaccine coming to pharmacies for first time

Ontario health officials also announced a new pilot project to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has significant cold storage requirements, in 16 pharmacies in Toronto and Peel Region.

Starting tomorrow, the pharmacies will administer the vaccine to people age 55 and up, with each pharmacy receiving 150 doses per week for three weeks.