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A registered nurse prepares a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, in Halifax, on Jan. 11, 2021.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Ontario seniors over 80 won’t be able to book appointments for COVID-19 vaccines until March 15, weeks behind other provinces that are beginning immunizations as early as this week.

Retired general Rick Hillier, chair of Ontario’s vaccine distribution task force, announced Wednesday that people over 80 will begin to receive shots in the third week of March. Meanwhile, Alberta and Quebec are taking bookings this week for their oldest seniors, and starting vaccinations this week and next.

The delay in reaching seniors across Ontario has prompted outcry from opposition parties and health care experts, who are concerned the time frame puts older adults at risk if the province experiences a third wave of the deadly virus.

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With a mass expansion of the COVID-19 vaccine program just weeks away, are provinces ready for the rollout?

Mr. Hillier said it wasn’t necessary to launch the booking system until March 15 because of a lack of vaccine supply from the federal government. He said the province is still working on vaccinating long-term care residents with second doses, Indigenous adults in Northern communities and front-line health care workers over the next few weeks.

“If we get more vaccines brought to Ontario, brought to Canada … that would speed up that process,” he said.

Just as Ontario’s plan to get shots into arms raised more questions about the province’s readiness, the federal government confirmed a significant increase in shipments will come from Moderna next month. The company had to ship more than 1.3 million shots in March to meet its contract for two million doses in the first quarter.

In Question Period on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the deliveries were confirmed and Moderna would surpass its March pledge. In a follow-up with The Globe and Mail, the company said it will send 466,800 shots the week of March 8 and 846,000 doses the week of March 22. That means it will send 1,000 more doses than first expected.

Mr. Trudeau said the federal government is working with the provinces to prepare for what he called the “big lift” in the next phase of the vaccine rollout.

Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, says results from COVID-19 vaccinations so far are encouraging enough that she thinks the need for massive lockdowns could be over before the end of the summer. But Tam says some of the more personal measures, like wearing masks and limiting close contact outside our households, may be with us longer. The Canadian Press

Ontario is scheduled to receive more than 233,000 doses of both Pfizer and Moderna this week.

Mr. Hillier laid out in broad strokes on Wednesday when people in Ontario can start to get their shots. Those over 75 will start on April 15, those over 70 on May 1, those over 65 on June 1 and those over 60 on July 1. Essential workers are expected to get their shots in May, Mr. Hillier said, but the full list of who qualifies has yet to be finalized by Premier Doug Ford’s cabinet.

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Some public health units, however, are moving ahead faster than the province - Ottawa for instance said it would start vaccinating those over 80 in higher-risk neighbourhoods starting as early as next week.

Mr. Ford blamed the delay on the province’s large population and a dearth of federal supply. “If we had millions of vaccines, it would be a lot easier,” he said.

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said it was “shocking” that Ontario would not start booking appointments until at least March 15.

“This rollout is being botched by the Ford government,” she said.

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca called it a “fiasco” that is “inexcusable.”

Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai and the University Health Network hospitals in Toronto, called on the province to move much faster to vaccinate people over 60, who represent 96 per cent of deaths from COVID-19, ahead of other groups such as essential workers.

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“With variants of concern that are circulating around and becoming the dominant strain, we’re really worried that we’re going to lose a lot more older people along the way,” Dr. Sinha said.

Alberta’s rollout expanded Wednesday, when about 230,000 people born in 1946 or earlier were permitted to make vaccine appointments online and over the phone. The systems, which launched at 8 a.m. local time, were immediately overwhelmed as people rushed to nab spots.

About 25,000 eligible seniors had secured appointments by the afternoon, and some residents were even able to receive their shots Wednesday.

Quebec will open bookings through an online portal and 1-800 line Thursday for vaccination appointments starting next Monday.

The province will start vaccinating about 200,000 people born in 1936 and earlier in Montreal next week, with the rest of the province following from the second week of March onward.

With reports from Carrie Tait in Calgary and Les Perreaux in Montreal

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We all feel anxious sometimes - even more so amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Sometimes these feelings can be overwhelming. David Gratzer, of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, offers some tips for dealing with anxiety and when to seek professional help. The Globe and Mail

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