TORONTO -- The Ontario government will be allowing anyone aged 55 and over to get a COVID-19 vaccine through the provincial portal starting Friday and hopes to start booking vaccine appointments for all adults over the age of 18 by the end of May.

As of 8 a.m. on April 30, individuals aged 55 and up will be able to book a vaccination appointment at a mass immunization clinic.

The province says they expect to see an increase in vaccine supply, which will allow them to ramp up the rollout and reduce the age threshold at mass immunization clinics on a weekly basis. Officials anticipate moving the age threshold to 50 during the week of May 3, followed by an age threshold of 40 on the week of May 10.

By the week of May 24, officials say they hope to be able to open up provincial vaccine appointments to anyone over the age of 18.

The province also hopes to start vaccinating essential workers in the first category of people “who cannot work from home” sometime next week. This includes elementary and secondary school workers, workers who respond to critical events, people in enforcement, inspection and compliance roles such as law enforcement, workers in childcare, foster care agency workers, agriculture and farm workers, and funeral, crematorium and cemetery workers.

Officials say they expect to receive about 800,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the start of May, ramping up to 940,000 doses per week by the end of that month.

“Beginning next week, Ontarians will begin receiving a more predictable and increased supply of vaccines from the federal government,” Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. “This will allow the province and our partners to further accelerate our vaccine rollout and get more shots into arms.”

Speaking on background at a technical briefing on Thursday afternoon, officials urged patience and said the timeline provides opportunities to book an appointment. It does not necessarily mean that residents can receive a vaccine during that time period.

Ontario to allot 50 per cent of vaccine supply to hot spots for two weeks

Following a recommendation made by Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, the government will also be allocating 50 per cent of its vaccine supply—about 370,000 doses a week—to hot spots on the week of May 3 and May 10.

Last week, the science table said that prioritizing higher risk neighbourhoods and essential workers will “substantially reduce the overall incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infections,” as well as lower hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths.

Assuming vaccine coverage of 80 per cent in those aged 60 years and older and 70 per cent of those between the ages of 16 and 59, officials with the science table said that the vaccination of these hot spots could be completed within 25 days.

The province, however, said they anticipate to return to their usual vaccine allocation—75 per cent by population and 25 per cent to hot spots—after the two-week period.

The science table also recommended that the 50 per cent vaccine supply be distributed among 74 of the province’s most at-risk neighbourhoods.

However, the government has chosen to distribute those doses to all 114 of Ontario’s hot spot postal code areas.

• MORE: How to get a COVID-19 vaccine in the Toronto area

Elliott said that the increased supply of COVID-19 vaccines means that the province “will not be taking away vaccines from other public health regions” while allocating more doses to hot spots.

“This targeted time limited approach is designed to reduce COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in our most at risk communities,” Elliott said. “At the same time that increased supply of vaccines mean we will not be taking away vaccines from other public health regions. Their allocations will remain the same as previously planned and will increase later in May.”

Residents aged 45 and up living in hot spots can now book a COVID-19 vaccine appointment through the provincial portal. This age threshold is expected to drop to 18 years of age the week of May 3.

Opportunities for vaccinations are also available in hot spots for anyone over the age of 18 through local public health units at mobile or pop-up clinics.

As of Thursday, the province has administered more than five million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. There are 363,403 people who have received both shots and are considered vaccinated.

Pfizer vaccine pilots at select pharmacies to begin Friday

The province will begin offering Pfizer vaccines for individuals aged 55 and up at 16 pharmacies on April 30. Eight of the pharmacies are in Peel Region and eight are in Toronto.

Each pharmacy will receive about 150 doses per week during the three-week pilot.

As it stands, the age threshold for getting the AstraZeneca vaccine remains at 40. Officials said they do not anticipate that threshold changing until the province receives further supply.

On Thursday, officials said that further allocation for this vaccine is pending.

Officials also said that three large companies will setup onsite and communication vaccination clinics starting this week and running through early May. The companies include Maple Leaf, Maple Lodge Farms and Amazon.

These clinics will offer vaccinations to employees as well as the general community.

Details on eligibility at these sites will be available shortly by the companies and Peel Public Health, officials said.