The Ontario government will give education and child-care workers priority access to vaccination appointments following criticism that it was not doing enough to support a safe return to school later this month.

The province announced on Thursday that it will set aside an unspecified number of appointments at a mass vaccination clinic at the International Centre in Mississauga for all education and child care workers starting tomorrow.

It says that eligible individuals can book the appointments by calling the provincial vaccine hotline at 1 (833) 943-3900.

The appointments will be available between 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., seven days a week.

Meanwhile, the province says that it is working with local public health units to “urgently” set up more clinics for education workers and child care staff living outside the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

The announcement comes hours after Toronto officials announced that they would set aside 3,500 vaccination appointments for education workers over the next two weekends as part of a wider effort to help create the conditions for a safe return to school later this month.

Mayor John Tory made that announcement during a briefing at Toronto City Hall on Thursday morning.

He said that the appointments will be available at two city-run immunization clinics on both January 9 and January 16 with school boards tasked with working alongside the city to schedule employees to receive their shots on those days.

The city has also announced plans to hold 27 vaccination clinics at shuttered schools between now and the scheduled resumption of in-person learning on Jan. 17, though Tory said that work is underway to schedule additional school-based clinics.

The clinics will be open to students and education workers, as well as their families.

“Team Toronto is doing everything it can and will do everything that it can to help the school boards and the province to safely return to in-person learning in our schools in two weeks,” Tory said.

The province announced earlier this week that schools would be closed for in-person learning until at least Jan. 17 due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

However, the announcement was not accompanied by a commitment to speed up the rollout of booster shots for educational workers, something that a number of teachers’ unions took issue with.

Speaking with reporters earlier in the day, Tory said that the city wanted to do its part to support the return to in-person learning “as quickly as possible” and is therefor redeploying some Toronto Public Health staff to assist with the vaccination efforts.

He said that an additional 8,500 vaccination appointments open to everyone are also being made available at city-run clinics this weekend.

The plan to scale up vaccination comes one day after Toronto Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa told CP24 that “in-person learning needs to be preserved as much as possible and can be supported “through a number of different protective measures.”

“I think that first and foremost when we think about schools and what we learned over the course of this pandemic is that in-person learning has to be preserved as much as possible,” she said. “It is such an essential component of life for our children, it is an essential activity for them and contributes hugely to their health.”

In addition to plans to prioritize education and child-care workers for vaccination, the province says that it will also be distributing N95 respirator masks to all workers in licenced child-care facilities as well as "updating and enhancing child care screening measures to help limit the spread of COVID-19."

It had previously said that it would only distribute the higher grade masks to education workers in schools.