More people in Ontario will soon be able to book a shot to get a COVID-19 vaccine at a pharmacy.


The provincial government said Thursday that it is lowering the age of those who can book a shot at a pharmacy to 55. The shot was previously available to those 60 and up.


The province made the announcement as it prepares to expand the pharmacy vaccination program to 350 more locations across Ontario.


All of the pharmacies will be administering the AstraZeneca vaccine.


The expansion doubles the number of pharmacy locations to 700 and provincial officials said there could be as many as 1,500 locations by the end of April.


"With more locations coming on board, these settings will make receiving the COVID-19 vaccine easier and more convenient for eligible populations across the province,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a statement. “I encourage everyone to sign up when it's their turn. Until we receive enough vaccines so that the majority of Ontarians can be vaccinated it remains critical for everyone to continue following public health measures we know work and keep us safe."


The AstraZeneca vaccine is easier to store and transport than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, making it easier to distribute to pharmacies and doctors’ offices.

The initial program was rolled out earlier this month in three public health units using a supply of the biologically identical COVISHIELD vaccine received from the Serum Institute of India. Canada recently received a shipment of 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the United States as part of a “vaccine loan” agreement. Of that shipment, Ontario received 583,400 doses.


Health Canada has now approved the manufacturing facilities where the U.S. AstraZeneca doses were produced, clearing the way for them to be distributed in Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada.


Deliveries of the doses to the provinces has already begun and is expected to be complete by Saturday. 


Federal health officials recently advised that the vaccine should only be given to those 55 and over while officials review the data around a very small number of blood clots that have occurred in younger patients who have received the vaccine in Europe.


In a statement issued Wednesday evening, Health Canada said that it continues to review the data to assess the vaccine, but that the benefits of using it outweigh the risks of not getting a shot.


“Based on all of the evidence available internationally to date, Health Canada continues to consider that the benefits of the AstraZeneca and COVISHIELD vaccines to protect against COVID-19 outweigh the potential risks,” the statement read.


Appointments are required to get the shot and can be made by contacting participating pharmacies.


Family doctors in select areas will also be receiving a limited supply of the vaccine and will reach out directly to their patients to book appointments, the province said.

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