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Humber River Hospital medical professionals administer the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to residents at a Toronto Community Housing seniors building in Toronto in March.

CARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

Ontario is speeding up second doses of COVID-19 vaccines for those 70 and older, as well as people who received their first shots on or before April 18, as the province faces pressure to boost immunity in the face of more contagious variants.

But the province won’t be sending additional doses to hot-spot areas or explicitly prioritizing essential workers, despite pleas from some scientists and local politicians to move faster to fully vaccinate populations who are vulnerable to the recently renamed Delta variant.

“We have a limited window of opportunity to get this right,” said Nathan Stall, a geriatrician and assistant scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table. “If we don’t do this, we risk … cases plateauing or even going up, and we don’t want to jeopardize phased reopening and summertime, and also we don’t want people getting sick.”

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Ontario announced on Friday that people 70 and older, as well as those who received first doses of an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) on or before April 18, are eligible to book their second shots at pharmacies. On Monday, those groups will also be eligible to book accelerated second doses through the provincial booking site. Some public-health units, including York Region north of Toronto, have already accelerated doses for those 70 and older.

The Ontario Health Ministry said those who were eligible to get first doses on or before April 18 included people 18 and older who received shots at mobile or pop-up clinics in hot-spot communities; those 50 and older in hot spots who booked on the provincial site; those with the highest risk health conditions (such as organ and stem-cell transplant recipients); education workers serving children with special needs; and education workers in hot-spot communities. However, not all of these groups would have been vaccinated before that date.

In addition, people who received AstraZeneca for their first dose can receive their second shot provided 12 weeks have passed. They can book it at a pharmacy and choose between AstraZeneca and an mRNA vaccine. Or, starting Monday, they can book through the provincial site, where the only option is an mRNA vaccine.

Coronavirus tracker: How many COVID-19 cases are there in Canada and worldwide? The latest maps and charts

Canada vaccine tracker: How many COVID-19 doses have been administered so far?

The new timeline speeds up second-dose eligibility for people 70 and older by more than a week, and by three weeks for those who received first doses on or before April 18. Adults 80 and older have been eligible to accelerate their second doses through the provincial system since May 31.

Scientists and municipal politicians, such as Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown and Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, have called on the government to send more vaccines to Peel, and to open up eligibility for younger populations such as essential workers.

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