8.5 million Ontarians to be vaccinated by July, says head of provincial task force
|Toronto Star 29 Dec 2020 at 14:45|
Ontario hopes to have 8.5 million people vaccinated against COVID-19 by July, says retired Gen. Rick Hillier, the head of the province’s vaccination distribution task force, amid criticism of a slow roll-out.
Hillier told reporters at a press conference Tuesday that so far, 14,000 people have received the first shot so far of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine. The province currently has 95,000 doses.
Ontario doesn’t have any yet of the Moderna vaccine, recently approved by Health Canada, but is expecting about 50,000 doses on Wednesday, which will be taken into a few long-term care homes at first.
That vaccine does not require the deep freeze that the Pfizer one does so can be moved into the homes, he said.
“We can’t do it any faster — we don’t have the vaccines coming to us any faster, and if we did we will use them more quickly,” he said.
Hillier said more than one million health-care workers and the most vulnerable in long-term care homes should be vaccinated by the end of March, completing the first phase. With about five million doses expected per month in April, May and June for Phase 2, and 7.5 million people vaccinated “by later summer.”
The priority list for phase 2 has not been developed, but essential workers like teachers, or police officers, as well as older Ontarians, can expect to start to get shots early in that phase.
This roll-out will involve a “vast number of mass vaccination sites,” as well as pharmacies, and special mobile sites, Hillier said, and 34 public health units will be involved.
“I think we can get into a lot of mainstream Ontario by later July,” he said. “We can get at a lot of people and offer them the opportunity to be vaccinated.”
The final phase 3 is a steady state, putting the vaccine into the same category as the flu or shingles vaccine, he added.
The province was under fire over the holidays for the closure of vaccine sites.
The vaccine is currently being administered at 19 hospital sites across the province. All of the clinics were closed on Dec. 25 and 26. Five were open on Dec. 27, 10 were open on Dec. 28, and all were set to open Monday.
Hillier said it will soon be expanded to 23 sites. Asked about the shuttering of sites during the holidays, he said, “in hindsight it was the wrong decision.”
“We’ve heard the voices of the people in Ontario saying get on with this, and this is what we’ve agreed to do,” he added.
Health care workers have been “running flat out for ten months,” he said. and there was some “downsizing” over Christmas in long-term care homes, so not everyone could come for vaccines.
The roll-out is not fast enough right now, he said, but they are learning and catching up.
“We will not take any more days off until we win this war against COVID-19,” Hillier said.
“We can’t vaccinate people any faster than we can if we don’t have the vaccines to do it.”
Hillier also said he would like Health Canada to take a look at if the Moderna vaccine could be administered as a one dose instead of two dose vaccine, so that more people could be vaccinated faster. But said he has not seen any evidence that this might work.