‘Seismic shift’ in Ontario vaccination program; those 60+ expected to get a shot months earlier
Published Friday, March 5, 2021 8:11AM EST
Last Updated Friday, March 5, 2021 2:58PM EST
The Ford government says that it expects to administer the first dose of COVID-19 vaccines to all Ontarians over the age of 60 by the end of May, a full two months ahead of schedule, and the first dose to all Ontarians by the beginning of summer.
Premier Doug Ford, along with Health Minister Christine Elliott, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, Dr. David Williams, chief medical officer of health and retired Gen. Rick Hillier, chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccination task force, provided an update on Phase Two of the rollout plan Friday afternoon.
Phase Two is scheduled to start in April and run until July. The government says approximately nine million Ontarians are expected to receive their first dose of an approved vaccine during this time.
Ontarians aged 60 to 79 years old are placed at the top of the prioritization ladder in Phase Two, representing 2.5 million people.
“In this last three to five days, we’ve had a seismic shift in our vaccination opportunities and in our program to roll it out," Hillier said.
Seniors will continue to receive the Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna vaccines while those under 64 will start receiving the newly approved AstraZeneca vaccine as early as next week.
Hillier added that the government also aims to administer the first dose to all Ontarians by the beginning of summer, a notable and encouraging bump in the timeline compared to the previously announced September target.
“I want to say by the first day of summer we want to have, vaccine supply dependent, we want to have a first needle in the arms of every person in Ontario who is eligible for the vaccine and wants to get,” he stated.
Hillier acknowledged that the approval of two more COVID-19 vaccines in Canada in the past two weeks, along with more shipments coming into the province is a positive sign that the rollout plan is ramping up.
“We need your patience just a little bit longer, the vaccines are arriving in increasingly large numbers, our stand up of the mass vaccination clinic continues as fast as the vaccines can arrive, and we will be ready to get a vaccine in you sooner than you ever imagined possible in these coming weeks, and several months,” he said.
Ford asked residents to remain patient as more vaccines come in and that “there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
“Yes, we have a long ways to go still, yes there's always bumps in the road, but I'm just feeling really positive with more vaccines and what I'm seeing out there on the ground and we're just getting better as we go,” he said.
As for required second doses of COVID-19 vaccines, the government announced that it will delay the time interval between the first and second doses from roughly three weeks to four months starting on Mar. 10.
“Having four months or up to four months between needles means we can significantly increase the program and get a level of protection to the people of Ontario that we want to get much sooner in much greater numbers,” Hillier said.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization has recommended extending the vaccination dose interval for all Health Canada approved vaccines, while still maintaining effective immunization against the disease.
On Friday, Health Canada announced that Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine has received the green light for use across the country. This vaccine only requires one dose for full immunization.
Next in line to receive the vaccine in Phase Two are individuals in the at-risk category which is further broken down into three levels: those with health conditions and in congregate settings, those in specific hot spot zones, and workers who cannot work from home. This entire group represents roughly 6.5 million people across the province.
The government provided a list of these at-risk individuals based on those considered highest-risk, high-risk and at-risk. The highest-risk category includes organ transplant recipients and those with kidney disease, while the at-risk category includes those with dementia, diabetes and liver disease.
Phase Two will also target hot spots in all of Ontario’s 34 public health units across the province.
But the government says 13 public health units will receive up to a total of 920,000 additional doses to target historic and ongoing hot spots with high rates of death, hospitalization, and transmission. The hot spots include: Toronto, York, Peel, Durham, Halton, Hamilton, Niagara, Ottawa, Simcoe Muskoka, Waterloo, Wellington Dufferin Guelph, Windsor Essex and South West.
During Phase One of the rollout plan, from Dec. to Mar., approximately 1.8 million people received their first shot, including long-term care home and retirement home residents and staff, adults in First Nations communities and seniors aged 80 and older.
Nearly 1.5 million vaccines expected to arrive in Ontario by mid-April
Over the next couple of weeks, Ontario expects to receive more than a million more vaccines from the federal government.
Hillier said he expects the allotment of vaccine shipments to continue flowing into the province uninterrupted for the foreseeable future.
“We have a steady flow of vaccines...we are gaining confidence every day that that flow will continue uninterrupted for the vaccines arriving in Ontario, and not only will it continue uninterrupted, it will grow every single week,” he said.
This week, the province is set to receive more than 173,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, followed by over 174,000 more doses in the weeks of Mar. 15 and Mar. 22 each, 175,500 doses in the week of Mar. 29 and more than 298,000 doses in the weeks of Apr. 5 and Apr. 12 each.
Meanwhile, 160,500 Moderna doses are set to arrive next week, followed by more than 323,000 doses in the week of Mar. 22.
Ontario is also set to receive 194,500 doses of AstraZeneca next week.
As of Thursday evening, more than 269,000 people across the province have been fully vaccinated.
To date, provincial health officials have administered more than 820,700 doses, with a record 35,886 doses administered yesterday alone.
Provincial vaccine booking system kicks off on Mar. 15
Starting on Mar. 15, the province will launch its online booking platform and customer service desk for people to schedule vaccination appointments at mass immunization clinics across Ontario.
A pilot program for the online book platform started on Monday and is currently running in six regions, including Kingston, Frontenac, and Lennox and Addington; Peterborough County-City; Hastings and Prince Edward Counties; Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark; Grey Bruce; and Lambton.
The goal of the pilot program is to ensure the platform is running smoothly and to make any necessary improvements before it is accessible to all Ontarians.
Based on submissions from public health units, the government says 167 vaccination sites are set to be up and running by the end of this month.
The province’s online booking platform can not be used for booking vaccination appointments at pharmacies, as they will have their own booking system.
A pilot project to administer vaccines at pharmacies is set to launch next week in three health units- Toronto Public Health; Kingston, Frontenac, Lennos and Addington Public Health; and Windsor-Essex County Health Unit.