Toronto could lower COVID-19 vaccine eligibility age to 60 'very soon,' mayor says

People arrive at the City of Toronto operated mass COVID-19 vaccination site in East York Town Centre, servicing the Thorncliffe Park community, an area disproportionally impacted by COVID-19, Wednesday, March 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

Mayor John Tory says the city is asking the province to lower the age restriction for booking a COVID-19 vaccine on the provincial portal to 60.

Tory said he has spoken with Premier Doug Ford about making the change and that it could be made “very soon.”

“I had a good conversation, in fact two conversations, with Premier Ford about this this morning. He wholeheartedly supported this change, and we hope to announce details of when this will happen very soon,” Tory said.

He later added that he’s hoping the change might be made “within a matter of hours, not days.”

He said the city is requesting the change as it passes the milestone of having administered half-a-million doses so far across all vaccine distribution channels.

“We have so far achieved a milestone unsurpassed by any municipality in Ontario at half a million vaccines,” Tory said. “This is an achievement no other municipality even comes close to but we have a lot more to do.”

He predicted Toronto will administer its next 500,000 doses even faster.

The effort to lower the age threshold comes as Ontario begins to receive more plentiful vaccine shipments than ever before. The province is scheduled to receive at least 3 million vaccine doses over the next month.

“This change will ensure that we continue to fill up all available appointments and work to get as many eligible people vaccinated as our supply allows throughout the holiday weekend and beyond,” Tory said.

12,000 appointments up for grabs between now and Sunday

Municipalities have been trying to ensure that they have a steady flow of people coming through their vaccination centres and have been lowering age thresholds as appointment bookings begin to slow down.

Fire Chief Matthew Pegg, who heads the city’s emergency response to the pandemic, said there are still 12,000 appointments available in the city between now and Sunday, even after 19,000 appointments at city-operated clinics were booked this week.

This week, York and Halton regions lowered their booking limit to those 65 and over.

Peel Region also said Wednesday that effective immediately, those 65 years old and up can book a COVID-19 vaccine appointment at select vaccine clinics in the region. They include William Osler’s Chinguacousy Wellness Centre and Brampton Civic Hospital, and Trillium Health Partners’ Mississauga Hospital and University of Toronto, Mississauga (UTM) sites.

Because Toronto uses the provincial booking system, the city has to request that the province make a small software change to allow younger people to register.

However, Tory said that so far the province has been very responsive to the city’s requests around the booking system and that so far the system has been working well.

“When you look at the scale of what we had to deal with here in terms of 3 million people and all the complications of multiple clinics -- today we have 30 clinics in place across the city –  we either had to try to build our own to be able to accommodate that, or use theirs,” Tory said. “And while some people have chosen not to use theirs, I think our experience with their system has been very successful.”

Pegg agreed with Tory and said the booking system has “worked extremely well.”

“Trying to operate and manage a booking and scheduling system for an enterprise as large as the vaccine effort in the City of Toronto requires that level of provincial coordination,” Pegg said.

Toronto is currently running five mass immunization clinics seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Pegg said the clinics will be operating every day over the Easter long weekend. There are also numerous clinics operating out of hospitals, pharmacies and other sites.

A sixth mass immunization site is set to open on Monday inside the hanger at Downsview Park. Pegg said interest in the site is already "very high" and that appointments at that site will be available from Tuesday on.

Those looking to book an appointment can do so at www.toronto.ca/COVID-19 or by calling the provincial vaccine information line at 1-888-999-6488.  

Phase 2 of Ontario’s vaccine distribution plan is also set to begin in April and will see shots extended to a wider range of people, including frontline workers and people with a range of health conditions.