TORONTO -- Shoppers Drug Mart, Rexall, Loblaws and Costco are among the pharmacy chains participating in the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in three regions of Ontario this week, Premier Doug Ford announced Wednesday.

As part of a new pilot program, 325 pharmacies in Toronto, Windsor-Essex, and Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington, are offering COVID-19 vaccination appointments to people ages 60 to 64. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday afternoon, Ford said some of those pharmacies had already started administering vaccines as of this morning.

Both big chains and smaller independent pharmacies have been included in the pilot, the premier said.

Although people between the ages of 60 and 64 are not being prioritized during Phase One of province's vaccination program, the AstraZeneca doses are being made available to people in that age group based on the advice of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

The committee said the AstraZeneca vaccine is not recommended for people ages 65 and older due to “limited information on the efficacy of this vaccine in this age group.”

The 194,000 AstraZeneca doses that Ontario has now received are set to expire on April 2 and the pilot program will help ensure vaccine doses are delivered as “quickly and efficiently” as possible, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said this week.

Vaccines will go to doctors' offices in other regions

This weekend, AstraZeneca doses will also be delivered to primary care settings, including physician offices, in Hamilton, Peel Region, Simcoe-Muskoka, Peterborough, Guelph, and Toronto, Ford said.

Primary care providers in those areas will not be taking appointments by request but will be reaching out to eligible patients.

Retired Gen. Rick Hiller, who is leading Ontario's COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force, acknowledged Wednesday that the first shipment of AstraZeneca vaccine doses won't come anywhere close to vaccinating everyone in that age group across the province.

"Our first allocation of AstraZeneca is 194,000. In that age group of 60 to 64 across Ontario there are one million people so clearly we don't nearly have enough vaccines to do all of that age group in this first batch," he said at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon.

"We are not sure of the next arrivals of AstraZeneca but you can be sure as soon as we get them, as soon as we know, we will publicize that and we will move it to our logistics pipeline and get it to pharmacies and family doctors and carry on along that same age group until we have finished all of those who are eligible and who want to have the vaccine."

The province is currently in Phase One of its vaccination program, which prioritizes health-care workers at the highest risk of infection and people over the age of 80 for a shot.

To date, Ontario has administered just 943,533 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine but the Ontario government has said it hopes to inoculate another one million people in the month of March.

During Phase Two of its vaccine program, which is set to run from April to July, the province has said it plans to offer doses to nine million more Ontarians.

The Ontario government plans to ramp up inoculations next week when it launches its online appointment booking portal on Monday. Officials say more than 120 mass immunization clinics are scheduled to open this month and many areas, including the regions of Peel and York, have already opened mass vaccination sites to begin inoculating people over the age of 80.

Toronto plans to open its first three mass immunizations clinics on March 17.

Speaking to CP24 on Wednesday morning, Mayor John Tory called the province’s pharmacy rollout “a great step forward.”

“I think people should understand that as supply has increased, the different kinds of places we are going to be able to administer the vaccine have been increasing as well,” he said.

A group of hospitals in Toronto have launched their own booking portal and have already begun inoculating people over the age of 80.

Ford said Wednesday that as more supply become available, additional pharmacies will come online and begin to offer COVID-19 vaccines to the general public.

The premier said while not all of the province’s 4,900 pharmacies will be involved in the vaccine rollout, “the vast majority will.”