The Ontario government says its COVID-19 vaccination rollout is ahead of schedule and will therefore begin the inoculation of residents aged 75 and over beginning Monday.
The Ford government said over 50 percent of Ontarians aged 80 and over have already received their first dose.
Premier Doug Ford made the announcement Friday morning alongside Minister of Health Christine Elliott, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and retired general Rick Hillier, who is heading the province’s mass vaccination efforts.
Adults 75 and older were set to become eligible by the first week of April but Ford said the province’s immunization effort is ahead of schedule.
“The progress we are making on our Vaccine Distribution Plan demonstrates what can be done when we unleash the full potential of Team Ontario,” said Ford. “Thanks to the efforts of an army of frontline health care heroes and volunteers, we are getting needles in arms even faster than we had imagined.
A pilot program offering vaccines in some pharmacies is also expanding and will now offer the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot to anyone aged 60 and older.
The pharmacy project previously only offered the shot to those aged 60 to 64 but the government said it is expanding after new guidelines deemed the shot safe for those 65 and older.
Participating pharmacies are currently located in the Toronto, Kingston and Windsor health units but Ford said the project will be expanding “across the province.”
The number of participating pharmacies is expected to double to 700 over the next two weeks.
As of 8 p.m. on Thursday, the provincial government reported administering 1,420,599 COVID-19 vaccine doses, representing an increase of 61,146 in the last day. There are 294,749 people fully vaccinated with two doses.
Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson are the vaccines currently approved in Canada. The first three require two shots administered several weeks apart while the fourth requires only one.
The province launched its online booking and consultation tool on March 15 and Hillier said since then, more than 239,000 have been scheduled for both first and second doses.
On Thursday, Ford spoke about the possibility of allowing outdoor dining and outdoor fitness classes or programs in Toronto and Peel Region while keeping those regions in the grey-lockdown zone.
When asked again about the subject on Friday, Ford reiterated his want to reopen businesses but said he is in constant discussion with his health table, highlighting the rising numbers of variant cases in the province.
“There’s no one out there that wants to open up businesses more more than I do,” Ford said. “And a vast majority of the places are are open to the exception of restaurants and a few other areas. Believe me, it drives me absolutely crazy about closing business.
“But in saying all that, we have another variant. I’m taking the advice, which I always have, off the chief medical officer. And I’m going to continue to take the advice of the chief medical officer.”
The province announces which of the 34 local public health units will move around in its colour-coded system on Friday. However, due to rising numbers in Ottawa, it was announced Thursday that the region would move from the orange level to red level effective Friday at 12:01 a.m.
—With files from Gabby Rodrigues and The Canadian Press