The Ontario government said Friday that it is accelerating its second-dose COVID-19 vaccine rollout and will allow more groups to book an earlier second-dose appointment starting next week.

As of Monday at 8 a.m., those 70 and up, as well as anyone who had a first dose of an mRNA vaccine on or before April 18 will be allowed to book an earlier second dose appointment.

In the original plan, the 70+ group was only slated to become eligible to rebook on June 14 and those who had a first shot before April 18 were only set to be able to rebook on June 28.

Starting today, anyone in those groups is also eligible to book a second shot at a pharmacy or a primary care setting taking part in the vaccine rollout.

Those who received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine and want to receive either a second dose of AstraZeneca or a mRNA vaccine can now schedule their second dose appointment at a pharmacy as well.

The move comes a day after Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliot said the province was looking for ways to expand second dose appointments to more groups sooner and will allow the newly eligible groups to rebook an appointment through the provincial booking system.

Those 80 and up became eligible to book an earlier second dose on May 28.

The province did not provide an updated schedule as to when other eligible groups will become available to rebook, but said in a release that it will “continue to accelerate second doses for all Ontarians based on when they received their first dose, as well as on the availability of vaccines.”

Lots of vaccines coming in

Speaking with CP24 on Friday, infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch, who sits on the provincial vaccine task force, said it is still important to prioritize and enable access for the eldest, those with health conditions and anyone at risk of the most severe outcomes from COVID-19. However he added that expanding to more groups quickly makes sense if supply allows.

“I think it would actually make things a lot easier because there is so much vaccine coming into the province,” Bogoch said. “I think that would certainly enable people to get their second doses and probably make it a lot more convenient.”

On Wednesday, York Region expanded eligibility to anyone 70 and up at its clinics after reports that there were hundreds of available appointments that weren’t being booked.

The province said that individual public health units may continue to expand eligibility sooner than the provincial timeline.

The accelerated timeline comes as Ontario sees its largest deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines so far. The province is set to receive around 940,000 Pfizer doses per week in June, dipping down to about 885,000 doses per week in July.

Federal officials said Friday that Canada will continue to receive more than two million doses of the Pfizer vaccine per week through to the end of August.

On Wednesday, officials in Toronto said that there were 74,000 appointments available in city-operated vaccine clinics between this week and July 4.

Toronto Board of Health Chair Joe Cressy said Friday that the city is adding an additional 10,000 appointments at its nine city-operated mass vaccination sites next week to help accommodate the extra demand.

Bogoch says hot spots should be prioritized

While health officials have said that those who are most at risk should receive second doses first, there is also a sense that with the flood of supply, no time should be wasted getting shots in as many arms as possible.

Yesterday, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie called on the province to allocate a greater share of vaccines to hot spot areas that account for most of the cases, as they did for first doses for two weeks in May. Crombie said that with growing concern over the Delta variant (also known as B.1.617), hot spot areas should be prioritized.

Health Minister Christine Elliot said Thursday that with the current glut of supply, all regions will continue to receive strong vaccine supply, though she did not commit to sending a greater share to hot spot areas specifically.

Bogoch said that it would make sense to prioritize hot spots, even if second-dose eligibility is expanded more quickly across the province.

“I think even with that, it would still also be important to siphon off some additional vaccines for hot spot communities where we know this Delta variant… disproportionately impacts certain communities, that it would be very reasonable to siphon some vaccine off to those disproportionately impacted communities and give people priority in those communities as well.”

He said the current infrastructure of mobile and pop-up clinics in Toronto are a good vehicle for delivering doses to those communities most in need.

The latest provincial data show that while 70 per cent of those 18 and older have now had at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, only 7.4 per cent of the population have received a second dose. Among those 80 and older, close to 29 per cent have now been fully vaccinated.

Health officials are urging those waiting for a second dose to be patient and are reminding people to cancel vaccination appointments if they obtain a dose through a different channel.