TORONTO – Residents in several of Ontario’s COVID-19 hot spots expressed frustration Monday at their inability to book vaccinations close to home amid a crush of demand after the province accelerated second doses in areas where the Delta variant is spreading.
Based on scientific evidence that people with one vaccine dose are less protected against the variant, the province had said individuals in seven regions who got first doses on or before May 9 could book a second shot starting Monday. Spots, however, were quickly filled.
One resident of Mississauga, Ont., Rodrigo Cokting, said he would have to drive more than 100 kilometres to Simcoe, Ont., to get a second dose, initially scheduled for August, after finding nothing nearby.
“It’s not ideal but it’s what was available so I booked it because I really want to get the second shot and two weeks after that finally feeling fully protected,” he said.
Another Mississauga resident, Mike Morden, 45, said he waited on the provincial website for 90 minutes to reserve his second dose only to end up booking a spot in Toronto by phone.
“It took a lot of effort,” Morden said.
Residents in other Delta hot spots also discovered they would have to travel for a shot. One Twitter user in Toronto complained of waiting 90 minutes only to find an available appointment more than an hour’s drive away in Alliston.
In York Region, Susan Farina took to social media to complain she was able to select an appointment but, after a 30-minute wait, was told the slot was no longer available.
“The booking websites are seriously deficient,” Farina said.
Health authorities in Peel Region, hit by the more contagious Delta variant, confirmed clinics were fully booked but said more appointments would be offered throughout the week. The health unit encouraged residents to check back later.
“We’re grateful that so many of our residents are stepping up to get their second dose to protect themselves, their loved ones and their community,” it said in a statement.
Similarly, York Region said its second-dose spots were filled by before 9 a.m. and asked for patience.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said appointment shortages were typical in places where vaccine eligibility has been expanded. She said millions of doses were on the way.
“We’re just asking people to be patient,” Elliott said. “If they try later on in the day, they generally find that spots are available.”
On Monday, the province reported 447 new cases of COVID-19 and four more related deaths. Peel, along with Toronto, Waterloo, the Timmins area and Durham Region, remained the most affected areas. While the Health Ministry said 384 people were in hospital with coronavirus disease, more than 10 per cent of hospitals did not submit data over the weekend.
Also on Monday, five remote Indigenous communities on James Bay said they were facing a deepening pandemic crisis exacerbated by poor infrastructure and overcrowding due to housing shortages. The communities said 283 cases of COVID 19 were active.
In Kashechewan First Nation on the Albany River, an 1800-strong community, 222 people – more than half under age 18 – had tested positive as of Sunday. Six members have been airlifted to hospitals in southern Ontario, while the small nursing station has been overrun.
“Nowhere in Canada is the COVID-19 situation bleaker than it is Kashechewan,” Chief Leo Friday said in a statement.
The community has put itself in a complete lockdown, meaning families that depend on hunting and fishing now must rely on costly grocery deliveries instead, Friday said.
In response, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said the federal government was working to address the urgent needs. Among other things, Miller said six nurses and more protective gear had been sent to Kashechewan, as had 15 Canadian Rangers.
“We are continually assessing the situation in Kashechewan and providing additional supports as needed,” Miller said.
Elliott also said the province was working to ensure people in the remote areas get the supports they need.
In more signs of easing pandemic restrictions, people will be able to enter Ontario by land or water from other provinces as of Wednesday but will have to follow public health measures. Interprovincial travel across Ontario’s borders has been restricted since April 19.
Ontario also said Monday that professional and elite amateur leagues, including the Blue Jays and Raptors, will be able to hold non-contact practice and dry-land training in the province. Games were expected to resume as soon as August, although there was no plan yet to allow spectators.