Ontario is reaching out to people not yet vaccinated against COVID-19 with more targeted walk-in, pop-up and mobile clinics as the province prepares to phase out mass vaccination centres at hospitals, arenas and convention centres.
Doctor’s offices and pharmacies will also begin playing a larger role as the province tries to encourage people who are hesitant about getting shots or have not otherwise booked jabs, officials told a background briefing Thursday.
“We’ll move to that as we find our need for mass vaccination clinics decreases,” Solicitor General Sylvia Jones told a news conference later as Ontario reported more than half of eligible adults have had both shots in addition to 80 per cent with first doses.
Hospitals, arenas and convention centres will all increasingly need to get back to their regular business as the province emerges from the pandemic, leaving vaccinations to traditional suppliers such as doctors, pharmacies and public health clinics, Jones added.
No firm dates have been set for closing mass vaccination clinics, and clinics hosted by local health units in schools are “one possibility” if federal health officials approve vaccinations for kids under 12. Children 12 and up are already eligible for second doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
With the more contagious Delta variant accounting for almost 82 per cent of all new COVID-19 infections and several trouble spots under close watch, Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province needs to do more to ease barriers to vaccination.
Efforts will include online town halls in several languages to reach out to various cultural communities, dedicated clinics for people with disabilities and youth, providing transportation for those who need it, offering translation services at clinics, drive-throughs and focusing on postal codes with lower vaccination rates.
“There is still more work to do,” Elliott said. “We are going to where people are using whatever strategies we can to ensure that everyone who wants to receive the vaccine can do so.”
Ontario reported four more deaths from COVID-19 Thursday and 210 new cases, the lowest since early last September.
Despite the challenges in convincing some to get shots, Elliott told reporters there are no plans to offer incentives like lottery prizes or scholarships to increase first doses and accelerating second doses. Some U.S. jurisdictions have offered incentives to encourage people to get vaccinated.
Statistics showing infection rates are highest among the unvaccinated are “incentive enough,” she added.
For the six months ending June 12, fully 96 per cent or 380,135 people who tested positive for COVID were not vaccinated. The period included the initial vaccine rollout starting in mid-December and the slow ramp-up to more recent high levels.
From mid-May to mid-June, 83 per cent of people testing positive for the virus had not been vaccinated and 15.6 per cent had been given just one dose. Another 1.2 per cent were fully vaccinated but still caught the virus.
Ontario has 11 public health units designated as hot spots for the Delta variant, with Waterloo Region, Grey-Bruce and Porcupine getting the most attention for flare-ups. Officials said the hot zones have been given 772,000 extra doses of vaccines to control the spread.
Asked about the third stage of reopening slated for July 20 or 21, when indoor restaurant dining and gyms could resume, Jones said health authorities are keeping a close eye on the fast-spreading Delta variant.
“The desire to open up Ontario and to allow as much business activity as possible has to be balanced with how the variants of concern are moving through our communities. We saw in areas like Porcupine, like Waterloo, that had historically not had any serious issues immediately spike up as a result of the Delta variant.”
While an official said outbreaks in those areas are stabilizing, daily case numbers are still high, with Waterloo Region posting 52 new infections Thursday. That compares with the much more populous Toronto health unit with 18. Mostly rural Grey-Bruce recorded 17 cases.
Waterloo remains in the first stage of reopening, which means shopping malls, barber shops, hair and nail salons are not yet open.
Almost 269,000 Ontarians received vaccinations on Wednesday. Just over 6.3 million Ontarians are fully vaccinated.