Provincial officials say they plan to administer first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to all residents of Ontario's long-term care facilities and high-risk retirement homes 10 days sooner than planned as at least one facility in outbreak has reported multiple cases of the UK variant.
The province, which provided an update this morning on their plan to administer COVID-19 vaccines in Ontario, has been forced to change gears amid delivery delays from Pfizer.
The province received no new doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine this week and Ontario will receive approximately 26,000 doses on the week of Feb. 1, a significant reduction in the number of doses than was previously expected.
The federal government has not yet provided the province with Ontario’s allocation for the weeks of Feb. 8 or Feb. 15 but officials said shipments are expected in Canada for those weeks.
On Monday morning, officials said in light of the supply slowdown, the province needs to take a strategic approach to administering the vaccines, focusing exclusively on the vaccination of long-term care home residents as well as high-risk retirement and First Nation elder care home residents.
Ontario has pressed pause on providing first doses of the vaccine to all other groups, including health-care workers and essential caregivers in those settings.
Initially the province’s vaccine task force said its goal was to provide first doses of the vaccine to residents in those vulnerable settings by Feb. 15, but officials now say they are working to do that 10 days sooner than planned.
The new Feb. 5th deadline is dependent on there being no further delays for deliveries, officials said Monday.
Pfizer, the larger of the two suppliers of approved COVID-19 vaccines in Canada, said last week it would drastically reduce deliveries to the EU and Canada in February as it retools a manufacturing plant in order to boost its annual output by 700 million doses.
On Monday, the province said about 47,000 residents of Ontario long-term care homes have already received their first doses with another 17,000 or 18,000 who still have not received the vaccine. Approximately 3,000 residents have refused the first dose, provincial officials said Monday.
To date, a COVID-19 vaccine has been made available to 50,000 long-term care workers and another 50,000 workers have yet to receive their first doses. Once more vaccines become available, the province said, the vaccination of workers and essential caregivers in those settings will resume.
The province also confirmed on Monday that it is working to reallocate vaccines to 14 of the 34 public health units that have not yet received any doses to date.
With the exception of long-term care and retirement home residents, those waiting for their second doses of the Pfizer vaccine may have to wait as long as 42 days to receive it due to the supply shortage, the province confirmed on Monday.
Another 80,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine are expected to arrive in the province on Feb. 1 and provincial health officials confirmed a similar shipment is expected on Feb. 22. Second doses of the Moderna vaccine will still be administered within a 28-day window.
“Delivery delays are now forcing us to be careful and cautious... That means reserving second doses for frail and vulnerable long-term care residents," Premier Doug Ford said at a news conference on Monday.
“As soon as there is certainty in deliveries... it will be full steam ahead."
The province's acceleration efforts in long-term care come as at least one home in the province confirmed multiple cases of variant B.1.1.7, a more contagious COVID-19 variant first discovered in the United Kingdom.
Roberta Place, a long-term care facility in Barrie that is currently dealing with a widespread outbreak of the virus, has confirmed five cases of the variant among residents and one case among staff.
In total, 127 residents of the home and 84 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19.
On Saturday, Dr. Charles Gardner, the medical officer of health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, said only two residents of Roberta Place have not tested positive and he believes all of those who are infected have the variant.
Public health officials in Simcoe County are also investigating the possibility that the UK variant is circulating in a long-term care home in Bradford.
On Monday, officials said it is taking the discovery of B.1.1.7 at Roberta Place very seriously and said they plan to boost testing for the variant in long-term care settings.
"We are doing a lot of testing. Right now we’ve done over 9,000 samples to determine what variants we are dealing with and we’ve done 3,000 since the beginning of January," Health Minister Christine Elliott said on Monday.
She added that as of next week, the province will be able to test 1,500 samples for the variant each week.
"We are much on top of it and we are detecting it very quickly."
Officials said when it comes to vaccinating residents in homes with an outbreak, they work to determine who has not been infected and administer first doses to those residents. A decision is later made about whether to administer the vaccine to those who have been infected after they have recovered from their illness.
Provincial officials confirmed Monday that the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit has administered first doses of the vaccines at all long-term care homes in the region though as few as 35 residents at Roberta Place received a dose of the vaccine due to the outbreak at that facility.
Premier Ford, Ret. Gen. Rick Hillier, Health Minister Christine Elliott and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones spoke at Queen’s Park this afternoon to address the shift in the province's vaccination plan.
Over the past week, Ford has taken to assorted insults and threats to vent his frustration over the Pfizer delivery slowdown, calling the company’s official excuse about retooling a Belgian manufacturing plant “crap.”
When speaking about the delays last week, Ford, in reference to an unnamed Pfizer executive, said that he’d be “up that guy’s ying-yang so far with a firecracker he wouldn’t know what hit him.”
He has repeatedly publicly appealed to U.S. President Joe Biden to send Ontario one million of its Pfizer doses as a stop gap measure.
"If the past week has taught us anything, it is that we can't take vaccine shipments for granted," Ford said on Monday.
"It is our hope that by the summer, everyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get a vaccine."