RICHMOND HILL, Ont. - Benedetto Varlese wasn't sure how long he would have to wait in freezing temperatures to receive his first COVID-19 vaccination on Tuesday morning, but he was willing to tough it out.
Varlese was among dozens of residents aged 80 and older who lined up outside the Richmond Green Sports Centre in Richmond Hill, Ont. – paperwork in hand –after securing an immunization appointment.
"It’s not the greatest, but we have to do it," Varlese said of waiting in the cold.
Many leaned on walkers or sat in wheelchairs, bundled up against the -8 C weather, as the community centre in York Region administered vaccines to the 80-and-older cohort for a second day.
Those seniors were allowed to start booking and receiving COVID-19 vaccinations in York and some other Ontario regions on Monday.
York, which has said its initial appointment slots were quickly booked up, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the long lineup.
Several in line said they were frustrated with the outdoor wait, but that was combined with expressions of relief at having secured appointments for a shot.
Michelle Stebbing waited in line for her parents as they stayed warm with her sister in a car parked nearby.
She said her parents were more fortunate than others because they had two children who could help them book their vaccine appointments and hold their spots in line.
"There should be some sort of sign-in where you leave your phone number or something and then you can be in your car," said Stebbing, who added that she was relieved her parents would be getting their doses of vaccine.
Mitchell Cheung, who was accompanying his grandmother, said his family was glad she would finally be getting some protection against COVID-19.
"It's been a while, it's been long enough. We're relieved," said Cheung.
"There's always a chance of side-effects with vaccines, but it's better that she have the shot than not."
Patrick Casey, director of corporate communications for York Region, said the municipality was aware of the long lines at Richmond Green and acted to ensure that they would not occur again.
"Enhancements have been made indoors to allow more space for COVID-19 screening," said Casey, who acknowledged that people over 80 may need additional time and support to complete the vaccination process.
Casey also said that additional staff had been allocated to the centre to help speed up the screening and check-in process.
Ontario is planning the broad launch of a vaccine booking portal on March 15 and aims to start doling out doses to the 80-and-older cohort at that time, but regions that have already inoculated the highest-priority groups are moving ahead with their own immunization plans.
The province has administered a total of 727,021 doses of COVID-19 vaccines so far.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021.