Ontario expanding COVID-19 vaccine pharmacy program to those 55 and older as locations double to 750

A member of the medical staff shows the vial containing the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine dose for Prime Minister Jean Castex, at the Hopital díInstruction des Armees Begin, in Saint-Mande, on the outskirts of Paris, Friday, March 19, 2021. (Thomas Coex, Pool via AP)

More people in Ontario will soon be able to book a shot to get a COVID-19 vaccine at a pharmacy.

The provincial government said Thursday that it is lowering the age of those who can book a shot at a pharmacy to 55. The shot was previously available to those 60 and up.

MORE: Here is the full list of pharmacies providng the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

The province made the announcement as it prepares to expand the pharmacy vaccination program to 350 more locations across Ontario.

All of the pharmacies will be administering the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Some of the new locations will begin offering the shots as early as this Saturday.

The expansion doubles the number of pharmacy locations to 700 and provincial officials said there could be as many as 1,500 locations by the end of April.

"With more locations coming on board, these settings will make receiving the COVID-19 vaccine easier and more convenient for eligible populations across the province,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a statement.

“I encourage everyone to sign up when it's their turn. Until we receive enough vaccines so that the majority of Ontarians can be vaccinated it remains critical for everyone to continue following public health measures we know work and keep us safe."

The AstraZeneca vaccine is easier to store and transport than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, making it easier to distribute to pharmacies and doctors’ offices.

The initial program was rolled out earlier this month in three public health units using a supply of the biologically identical COVISHIELD vaccine received from the Serum Institute of India. Canada recently received a shipment of 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the United States as part of a “vaccine loan” agreement.

Federal health officials recently advised that the vaccine should only be given to those 55 and over while officials review the data around a very small number of blood clots that have occurred in younger patients who have received the vaccine in Europe.

“In a statement issued Wednesday evening, Health Canada said that it continues to review the data to assess the vaccine, but that the benefits of using it outweigh the risks of not getting a shot.

“Based on all of the evidence available internationally to date, Health Canada continues to consider that the benefits of the AstraZeneca and COVISHIELD vaccines to protect against COVID-19 outweigh the potential risks,” the statement read.