KITCHENER -- Waterloo Region and the Guelph area are getting ready to shift their COVID-19 vaccine programs into a higher gear.

The Ontario government designated both areas as priorities for large vaccine shipments in the near future. Now, both are preparing to expand their list of who's eligible to book appointments.

As communities across the province start mass COVID-19 vaccination clinics, the government is laying out its plan to pick up the pace with shipping out doses.

Details of Phase Two of the vaccination campaign, which is set to start in April, were outlined on Friday.

The premier's office confirmed that Waterloo Region and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph are two of 13 hot spots that will receive a significant quantity of COVID-19 vaccine doses.

The announcement came as Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health prepared to open up registration to the 70-plus age group, progress that had Ontario's vaccine point man praising the public health unit.

Ret. Gen. Rick Hillier called Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer "an incredible leader" and an "awesome Canadian," noting that her long-term outlook on the pandemic has helped her public health unit prepare for vaccine rollout in advance.

"(She) built an online booking system to have available for that health unit, built a call centre, brought together the list of the population in her area of responsibility by age and got ready to roll out for anything that they might be needed," he said.

Dr. Mercer said that the vaccine for the 70-plus group may not be coming for a few weeks, but that she wanted to be ready for when they do.

"But what we do want to know is who is wanting the vaccine in our community, get everybody registered," she said.


In Waterloo Region meanwhile, officials have administered more than 33,000 vaccine doses so far. That's more than three times the number of positive cases reported in Waterloo Region to date.

"There is that light to the end of the tunnel," said Dept. Chief Shirley Hilton on Friday.

That day, the region's first mass vaccination opened at The Boardwalk in Waterloo. Two more clinics—both in Cambridge—are slated to open this month.

Vaccinations are still by appointment only for those 80 and older, but the region announced Friday that those experiencing homelessness will by joining those next in line. Waterloo regional police officers will also be added to that list, specifically those who respond to medical calls, perform CPR or administer naloxone.

Library staff are now helping to book appointments, as well.

"Beginning today, the staff of Region of Waterloo libraries will be contacting adults 80 years of age and older who have indicated a phone call is the preferred way to be contacted," Hilton said on Friday.

The province said there are plans in the works to enter Phase Two of the vaccine rollout between April and July, but the region noted that there is still a lot of uncertainty as information on vaccines changes.