TORONTO — Two of Ontario's most populous cities started allowing walk-ins at mass vaccination sites Thursday, offering an alternative to the scramble to secure appointments for a coveted COVID-19 vaccine.
Hamilton began offering walk-in slots for first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine at all mass vaccination sites, while Toronto opened up one of its mass clinics to any adult seeking a first or second dose without an appointment.
"As we enter this phase of the vaccination campaign, where we're trying to reach everyone, everywhere, the predominant focus is to break every barrier and make access as easy as possible," Coun. Joe Cressy, chair of the Toronto Board of Health, said in an interview.
The City plans to evaluate the effectiveness of the walk-in program at the Toronto Congress Centre, and will consider expanding walk-in appointments to other City-operated clinics.
Roughly 2,000 shots will be available each day at the site from noon to 7 p.m. until Sunday, officials said.
That it's even an option to offer so many vaccines without requiring appointments is a marked shift for the city, Cressy noted.
"For the first nearly seven months of the vaccination campaign, we were in a situation with limited supply and significant demand. And with vaccines rolling in, supply is no longer the predominant issue now," he said.
It comes as the province announced a new focus in its vaccination campaign Thursday.
Ontario is now working to reach residents who have yet to receive their first dose of vaccine, as half of adults in the province are fully vaccinated and 78 per cent have one dose.
"We are not stopping there. We want to ensure that even more Ontarians can benefit from the protection of a two-dose summer," Health Minister Christine Elliott said.
Hamilton, which is currently offering only first doses of vaccine without an appointment, is focused on reaching those who've yet to get a jab.
"Over time, we do see transitioning to walk ins for second doses. But at this point, we're making sure that that's particularly accessible for those who are seeking a first dose," Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, medical officer of health for Hamilton, told a board of health meeting Wednesday.
She said the city is switching to a strategy that will see more people ask about residents' vaccine status, from family doctors to nurse practitioners and staff in hospital emergency departments.
Hamilton aims to have 75 per cent of residents fully vaccinated in all of its "forward sortation areas" -- geographic areas based on the first three digits of a postal code -- by the end of August.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 8, 2021.
Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press