Toronto partnering with Vaccine Hunters Canada to connect residents with COVID-19 shots

TORONTO — The City of Toronto is officially partnering with a volunteer group that helps people navigate Ontario’s increasingly complicated COVID-19 vaccination rollout to connect them with opportunities for shots.

Toronto will provide daily vaccine availability information to Vaccine Hunters Canada, a volunteer group that uses social media alerts and a website to document where people can go to get a coronavirus vaccine across the country.

The city says it will provide data about open slots for vaccines at its 10 mass vaccination centres.

As of Wednesday, only two of its sites, Toronto Congress Centre and Cloverdale Mall, have any open slots, but more appointments will be available by May 10 at all 10 sites.

“This is a huge, all hands-on deck effort and Vaccine Hunters Canada have stepped up to help people get vaccinated and navigate the different registration systems. We are excited to work with Vaccine Hunters to help get more people vaccinated,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a statement released Tuesday.

He told CP24 the partnership is active already.

“As time goes forward at the end of the day each day, the city will forward to Vaccine Hunters a lits of the available appointments so people will be able to go on vaccine hunters and see where they qualify.”

The volunteer group said it was happy to be officially joining with a municipality to help people secure shots.

“This is a new phase for our organization, and we are excited to increase our efforts to collaborate with public health units across the province,” Vaccine Hunters Canada spokesperson Joshua Kalpin said.

Ontario’s existing COVID-19 vaccine regime involves a number of entities offering shots to different groups of people all at once, using varying means of registration and with eligibility criteria changing by the day and sometimes without warning.

Under the current process, some of Ontario’s 34 public health units use a central, Ontario government-built online vaccine booking portal and call centre, while others use their own.

For appointments in pharmacies using the AstraZeneca vaccine, people have to book online directly with the pharmacy, call in, or simply walk in if shots are available at that particular location.

Municipally-run mass vaccination sites offer shots by appointment only based on age, which can vary depending on the postal code you live based on its rate of infection per capita. They also offer shots to pregnant women, education workers, and healthcare workers grouped into three tiers of priority.

In some public health units, a limited number of primary-care physicians have been given shots to give out to their highest-risk patients.

Other avenues for vaccination involve hospital-run clinics and “pop-up” vaccination sites targeting all adults living in the highest-risk postal codes.

On Wednesday, there are four walk-in only sites operating in Scarborough in the M1L, M1G and M1J postal codes, offering a combined total of 5,100 shots.

There are also pop-up sites operating at Downsview Arena in North York and Albion Arena in Etobicoke.

There are two pop-ups at large mosques in Brampton and Mississauga today, but both required appointments and are fully booked.

Select large employers are hosting on site vaccination clinics, but they are not widely publicized in advance.

Other clinics have targeted residents of large apartment towers where infections have occurred, or specific vulnerable populations such as refugees.

Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott have denied there is any confusion around vaccine registration, saying the fact that 4.7 million people have received their shots so far means there was no confusion.

But the new head of the vaccine rollout task force, ORNGE CEO Dr. Homer Tien, told people in a webinar recently that he would prefer if there was one single portal covering all COVID-19 vaccine booking requirements and advisories about all walk-in opportunities for shots.

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