Many Ontarians scrambled to secure COVID-19 booster shots and rapid tests on Friday, as demand for the province’s two key weapons in the fight against Omicron far outpaced supply.
While pharmacies were able to start offering third doses of vaccine to all eligible adults as of Friday, the head of the Ontario Pharmacists Association said residents should temper their expectations about getting in and getting jabbed.
“We’re still having issues on the supply side,” Justin Bates said in an interview.
Many pharmacies will refrain from offering walk-in vaccinations because the process can be a little more chaotic when demand is high, as it is right now, and some people may line up only to be turned away, Bates said.
“Our preferred method is attempting to book an appointment,” he said.
Some Ontario-based Twitter users said they hadn’t had any luck calling around to pharmacies Friday in search of boosters, while others said they had joined numerous wait lists.
Premier Doug Ford announced earlier this week that all adults would be able to book a booster starting Monday, provided it’s been more than three months since they received their second dose, and pharmacies could start offering the shots to the expanded cohort for walk-ins and appointments as of Friday.
Ford said Ontario has doubled its daily vaccination capacity, and administered more than 156,000 shots on Thursday.
The premier has made the booster rollout the centrepiece of his bid to fight the highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19, which experts say has become dominant in Ontario and is fuelling a surge in cases.
The province reported 3,124 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday – two-thirds of which are in people who are fully vaccinated – as well as five new deaths from the virus. It was the highest tally of daily new infections since early May.
The province has presented rapid antigen tests as another tool in its arsenal, with some LCBO stores on Friday joining a “blitz” to hand them out for free.
But there, too, initial demand appeared too burdensome.
“We expect most stores will receive supplies today, but cannot confirm exact arrival times at each location and do expect our limited supply to go quickly,” an LCBO spokesperson said in an email Friday.
That was the case in Hamilton, where Hazel Brown hoped to get rapid tests in an effort to be a little safer this holiday season while seeing her family.
The first location she tried on Thursday morning – the province is also handing tests out at certain malls and other high-traffic areas – was so packed that she couldn’t even get into the parking lot.
“It was jam packed and people were wrapped around the parking lot and down the street,” she said. “And so I didn’t even bother going in because I figured they would have a limited supply.”
She was luckier at an LCBO on Friday, showing up before opening time for a shot at getting test kits she wasn’t even sure would be there, since the store was closed when she arrived.
A half hour or so later, she said, those in line saw a welcome sight through the big windows at the front of the store: a man with three large boxes on a dolly.
“Alright!” she said. “It really does feel like you’re winning the jackpot or something, it’s ridiculous.”
Ontario’s panel of COVID-19 expert advisers said Thursday that boosters and tests would not be enough to blunt the impact of Omicron, and that the province should put “circuit breaker” measures in place to reduce contacts by 50 per cent.
The province announced earlier this week that it would reintroduce a 50 per cent crowd limit in venues with a capacity of more than 1,000 on Saturday, but declined to limit occupancy at restaurants and bars or introduce stricter limits for social gatherings.
A spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott said Thursday that the science table’s modelling would not have factored that measure into its assumptions.
The co-chair of the science table said the cap on crowd limits in large venues will have some effect but won’t change the thrust of the predictions.