Ontario seniors over 80 years old could start getting a call to come get vaccinated in the next few weeks as Ontario moves that population into the group that it is ready to start vaccinating.

The province issued a memo to hospitals over the weekend saying that members of the general population who are 80 years and over are now being moved into the Phase 1 group for vaccinations and on Friday they released further details.

Phase 1 already includes health-care workers, chronic home care patients and long-term care home residents and staff and is expected to run through the end of March. However officials said it could take longer than that to vaccinate all of Ontario’s oldest residents.

“We want to be able to start vaccinating those 80 years of age and older, and we will be reaching out to them in the next week to two weeks to tell them when their opportunity is going to become available, and where they can go to book their appointments, either online or through a phone line, and where they can get their information,” Gen. Rick Hillier, who leads Ontario’s vaccination effort, said at a news conference Friday afternoon.

While officials in an earlier technical briefing said some shots could start getting into the arms of those seniors this month in some areas, Hillier said the province is anticipating that it will happen in the middle of March.

The logistics of how an estimated 643,000 older seniors will be contacted to receive a shot are still being worked out.

The province is still developing a registration portal that was piloted in Toronto for two days last month. While the pilot was short, officials said many people used it to register and that gave them valuable insight into the IT requirements of running it.

The province has not said exactly when the portal will be operational. When it is up and running, people will be asked for their health card number when they register, though it will not be an absolute requirement and other forms of ID may be accepted.

A call desk is also being set up for those who are not comfortable making appointments online and the province said it may reach out to some seniors through their family doctors.

The province said it is working out how to distribute the vaccine doses to older seniors in partnership with local public health units and further details about the rollout are expected to be released in the coming weeks.

Health officials are cautioning, however, that even once a person is vaccinated, they will still be advised to follow the same health restrictions as the general population as questions remain as to whether vaccinated individuals may possibly be asymptomatic carriers.

To maximize the vaccine supply, public health units and vaccination clinics have been directed by the province to fill last-minute cancellations, “no-shows” and end-of-day remaining doses with people who are part of Phase One.  

Province hoping to ramp up vaccinations as supply becomes available

Premier Doug Ford expressed confidence in the province’s vaccination efforts Friday and said that as soon as larger shipments of the vaccine begin flowing from the federal government, the province will be able to roll out those doses.

“We've built the infrastructure up that when we have mass vaccination, we'll be upwards to 160,000, a day,” he said.

Local public health units have been setting up mass vaccination sites and around 2,500 people have signed up through the Ontario Matching Portal to help provide vaccine-related support when sufficient supplies arrive.

Toronto Mayor John Tory told CP24 Friday that the city is currently training extra staff to operate its vaccination sites.

“The staff will be ready, the clinics will be ready, Toronto will be ready as soon as supplies are available,” Tory said. “We actually went through the exercise of hiring the staff and we thought we might have more trouble than we did, finding qualified people to actually be the people that ran these clinics and participated in giving the injections.

“We're fortunate that we found very good people, the training process is underway. And so it is now just the case that we need to get onto the schedule. I know the province is working very hard on this, as is the federal government to allow us to actually put needles into arms.”

The city said this week that all nine of its clinics are on schedule to open on or before April 1, the provincial deadline. The city estimates at once operational, more than 120,000 vaccine doses will be administered in the city each week through its clinics

As of Feb. 18, some 217,000 people had been fully vaccinated in Ontario. Others who have received a single shot so far include 63,000 long-term care home residents and more than 34,000 retirement home residents.

Phase 1 is expected to run through the end of March and will include a period of transition to Phase 2.

Set to formally begin in April and run through the end of July, Phase 2 will extend vaccinations to some 2.8 million members of the general population between the ages of 60 and 79, as well as roughly 2 million frontline essential workers, 3.1 million individuals with high-risk chronic conditions and their caregivers, 660 thousand people who are part of at-risk populations and another 157,000 people living and working in other high risk congregate settings.

Vaccinations for all remaining members of Ontario’s general population are currently projected to begin in August.