BARRIE -- AstraZeneca doses will be offered to residents in Simcoe Muskoka through pharmacies and local health teams starting Tuesday.

The province announced Sunday, plans to lower the eligibility age for the vaccine from 55 to 40 and over as cases surge across the province.

Phones rang off the hook inside Prohealth Pharmacy in Barrie's south end with residents trying to book their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine Monday.

"Crazy busy. Especially because our internet is down as well, so we're just swamped," said pharmacist Shamshad Mansuri, of ProHealth Pharmacy on Mapleton Avenue. Mansuri said she and her team booked nearly 90 appointments by mid-afternoon.

"We were expected phone calls or the appointments, but because the system is down and our appointment site is also down, so really it is very hard for us," she said.

Pharmacies and local health teams have been offering AstraZeneca doses throughout the region for more than a month through a pilot project designed to vaccinate residents in areas where incidence rates have surged. Local cases have tripled and in some areas quadrupled this month in Bradford West Gwillimbury, Barrie, Innisfil and New Tecumseth.

The decision is being applauded by doctors in Simcoe Muskoka, including past president of the Ontario Medical Association, Stayner physician Sohail Gandhi.

"It simply means we have more variety, and we have more vaccine. So it allows us to get more people immunized as quickly as possible, so I believe that this is a good thing."

Doctors across Ontario have been calling for the province to lower the age requirement to combat the escalating infection rates, with vaccine doses expiring at the end of May.

Some local medical officers of health, including Dr. Karim Kurji, have advocated for lowering the AstraZeneca vaccination eligibility to 30 years of age in hotspots like Vaughan, where workplace outbreaks have led to the province; declaring five postal codes in York Region as hotspots.

"I would love to have seen that, but again the problem is we have a shortage of vaccines," pointing to the abysmal vaccine supply, Dr. Gandhi said, "as a country, Canada ranked near 50th in the world in per capita vaccine supply and simply doesn't have the ability to offer younger age groups doses ahead higher-risk residents."

"I think it would have been a good idea to do that if we had more vaccines, but because there is a shortage, it had to be rolled out in a very specific manner treating those at the highest risk first."

Residents 35 years of age or older in the hotspot postal codes in Vaughan and Markham will be able to seek vaccination Tuesday.