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TORONTO — Ontarians will have to book their COVID-19 vaccinations through different websites depending on where they live, the government said Tuesday, as critics questioned the province’s readiness for a ramp up in immunizations.
At least six public health units will continue using individual booking systems that started taking appointments while a provincial portal remains under development, the government said. The provincewide site is set to go live on March 15.
“They already have websites that are up and running and are serving their own purposes,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said. “I think the fact that we will have administered a million vaccines by the end of this week speaks for itself about the success.”
Elliott reiterated Tuesday that the government had not yet launched its site because it wanted to ensure it wouldn’t crash once it was live.
Several public health units started using their own booking systems recently as they moved ahead with vaccinating eligible residents, including those aged 80 and older.
Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph is one of the health units that will keep using its own system even after the provincial booking portal launches, the government said.
Meanwhile, the province said a previously announced pilot project in which pharmacies administer COVID-19 vaccines to those aged 60 to 64 would launch Friday in Toronto, Kingston and Windsor.
Elliott said Ontario was expecting to receive 190,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines Tuesday, which are slated for use in the pilot that will run in more than 300 pharmacies.
Opposition politicians expressed doubts that all the necessary pieces were in place to handle increased vaccine supply expected in the coming weeks.
Liberal Health Critic John Fraser said the shifting messaging about the booking system was confusing.
He also expressed doubts that the pharmacy pilot would move fast enough to distribute all their Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines before the shots expire, noting that the pharmacies involved hadn’t been named publicly as of Tuesday morning.
“I’m not confident,” he said. “It would be good if they could explain mathematically how they’re going to achieve that even in the broadest sense.”
The vaccine rollout is expanding as the last three Ontario regions under a stay-at-home order saw restrictions loosen this week.
Toronto and Peel Region are now in the strictest “grey lockdown” category of the province’s pandemic restrictions framework, which allows previously shuttered retailers to open with capacity limits. North Bay has moved to the second-strictest “red” category.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she’s worried about a possible third wave taking hold in communities where restrictions have lifted but vaccinations are still ramping up.
“It really is this push and pull between vaccines arriving getting into people’s arms and the variants spreading through communities,” she said.
“We flagged that opening up too soon, creating too much space for the variants to take hold and spread, could lead us into a third wave. And I’m still very concerned about that.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 9, 2021.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press
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