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COVID-19 vaccination booking sites busy in Ontario regions offering shots to oldest seniors

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TORONTO — Ontario health units that began allowing older residents to schedule COVID-19 vaccinations reported thousands of bookings and high call volumes on Monday, while a provincial website for appointments was tested in six regions.

Local units are moving ahead with their vaccination plans for the general population based on their progress immunizing the highest priority-groups, which includes those in long-term care.

In York Region — where those aged 80 and older could start scheduling and receiving their shots on Monday — vaccination clinics were fully booked just two hours after they started taking appointments.

A spokesman said approximately 20,000 appointments were made across five locations in the region that includes the cities of Markham, Richmond Hill and Vaughan.

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“At this time residents are urged to remain patient and will be notified as more appointment bookings become available,” Patrick Casey said in a statement.

Clinics were also set to offer shots to those 80 and older in Windsor-Essex County, and to those 85 and older at a hospital in Hamilton.

The City of Hamilton warned residents of possible long wait times amid high call volumes to its COVID-19 hotline.

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“If you’re calling to book an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine (85+ years old only at this time), please be patient as there may be delays,” the city said in a notice posted online.

Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, which has also launched its own booking site to make appointments for adults 80 and older, noted its phone lines were at capacity Monday and encouraged people to register online.

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The provincial government has said it aims to begin vaccinating Ontarians aged 80 and older starting the week of March 15, the same day it plans to launch its vaccine booking system that will offer a service desk and online portal.

It has noted, however, that the vaccine rollout will look different in each of its 34 public health units.

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When asked about the lack of provincewide cohesion on the rollout, Health Minister Christine Elliott said Monday that public health units know their regions best and that’s why they have been given responsibility to set the pace locally.

“Some of them are already vaccinating the over 80 year old people that are living within their regions. I think that’s something that we should be celebrating not denigrating,” she said.

The government carried out a “soft launch” of its web booking portal in six regions on Monday, ahead of its provincewide launch in two weeks, a government source confirmed to The Canadian Press.

Eligible residents in Kingston, Frontenac, and Lennox and Addington; Peterborough County-City; Hastings and Prince Edward Counties; Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark; Grey Bruce; and Lambton would be contacted to participate in the pilot, according to a government source.

Monday also saw renewed lockdowns begin in Thunder Bay, Ont., and in the Simcoe Muskoka region in response to rising COVID-19 cases in those areas.

Restrictions on businesses and gatherings were to loosen in seven other health units: Niagara Region, Chatham-Kent; Middlesex-London; Southwestern; Haldimand-Norfolk; Huron Perth; and Grey Bruce.

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Coronavirus: Experts and opposition push for clarity on Ontario’s vaccination plan

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© 2021 The Canadian Press

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