The Ontario government has developed a three-phase plan to roll out COVID-19 vaccinations across the province.

Premier Doug Ford, along with Health Minister Christine Elliott, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, and retired Gen. Rick Hillier, chair of the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force, unveiled the plan Friday afternoon.

Yesterday, Ford announced that vaccinations will start on Tuesday, Dec. 15, after Health Canada approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Wednesday.

Today, the government announced the rollout of the vaccines will happen in three stages.

“Friends, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. All that remains is for shipments to arrive and we’re ready for them,” Ford said during a press conference on Friday.

The first stage starts on Tuesday with a pilot project in Toronto and Ottawa where a total of 6,000 healthcare workers are expected to be vaccinated.

The two pilot sites are at University Health Network in Toronto and The Ottawa Hospital, which will both receive 3,000 doses each of the vaccine.

Hillier said the vaccines will be flying in from Europe into Toronto Pearson International Airport by Monday and then will be driven to Toronto’s site and flown to Ottawa.

The vaccines will be administered to healthcare workers on an appointment basis. Those who are getting inoculated will have to go to the vaccination site as the vaccine has to be stored at -70C until it is administered.

According to the government, the two cities were selected for the pilot to test the travel logistics in two different regions of the province.

Hillier noted that both Toronto and Ottawa will only inoculate 1,500 people in each city and save a second dose for each patient to take 21 days later, as is required for the vaccine to provide full immunization against the virus.

He said Pfizer has guaranteed that Ontario will have more doses by the 21-day mark, but the COVID-19 task force concluded that reserving half of the doses now guarantees that the initial patients will get their second dose without any delays.

“Given the sort of information flow and what we know about the supply which is very little at this time and the dates for when the next vaccine would arrive which is zero, and those kinds of things, we decided it is better to err on the side of caution in the smaller case,” Hillier said.

“As we move down the road and larger batches of the vaccine arrive and we develop a confidence in the vaccine supply and when it’s going to show up then we would reassess and be prepared,” he added.

Once the initial vaccinations are given, Hillier said both sites will write a “playbook” on how they administered the vaccinations, how they handled the vaccine and what they learned from it, which will be accessible to all future vaccination sites.

“We will be ready for whenever those [future] vaccines arrive and then learn even more lessons from there,” Hiller said.

“This is the biggest vaccination ever for Ontario, for Canada. There are going to be some bumps in the road. Please be patient with us. We’re going to work through those bumps,” he added.

The government said it expects to receive 90,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine by the end of December which will be delivered to up to 14 hospital sites in the red “control” and grey “lockdown” levels of the province’s COVID-19 response framework.

These vaccines will be prioritized for healthcare workers in hospitals, long-term care homes, retirement homes and other congregate settings caring for seniors.

Once approved by Health Canada, the Moderna vaccine will be distributed to long-term care homes in lockdown areas as well. The province is expecting 35,000 to 85,000 doses of this vaccine.

When a stockpile of vaccines becomes available, the province will shift to Phase Two of its vaccination rollout plan, which is expected to begin later in the winter of 2021.

In Phase Two, vaccinations will be administered to healthcare workers, as well as to residents in long-term care homes and retirement homes, to home care patients with chronic conditions and to additional First Nation communities and urban Indigenous populations.

Phase Three will begin when vaccines are available for every resident in Ontario. The government has not said when Phase Three is expected to begin.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he expects all Canadians who want to be vaccinated will be inoculated by September 2021.

Government is ‘comfortable’ about security measures in place to protect vaccines

Hillier assured that the government is “comfortable” with all the security measures in place to protect the vaccines once they arrive on Canadian soil.

He said the government considered physical and cybersecurity issues with transporting and housing the vaccines at the two pilot sites in Toronto and Ottawa.

“The sites where the vaccines are going, they’re used to handling controlled substances, they’re used to providing an appropriate amount of security for the number of people that come through and with the extra attention that we paid them with what we’re doing we think we’re ready for Monday and onwards, Hillier said.

Hillier noted the task force has not identified specific threats but said the vaccines are considered equivalent to controlled substances and that they “want to make sure that they look after them appropriately.”

Jones said the government made sure to do its due diligence to ensure the sites were ready and protected to house “the liquid gold.”

“We’re satisfied that they are ready and we have additional resources available if and when they need it,” she said.

Other Phase One key milestones:

  • In early 2021, expansion of additional hospital sites providing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Grey-Lockdown and Red-Control zones, with continued vaccination provided to health care workers and, with the appropriate safety protocols, to long-term care home and retirement home residents.
  • It is anticipated that by end of January over 20 hospitals across the province will be administering the Pfizer vaccine.
  • An expansion of the number of locations to administer the Moderna vaccine would include long-term care homes, retirement homes, public heath units, other congregate care settings for seniors, and remote Indigenous communities.