TORONTO — Vulnerable seniors, their caregivers, and health-care workers will be among the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Ontario, but the province is still a long way from being able to offer the shot to the broader public.
Premier Doug Ford laid out his government’s three-part vaccination rollout plan on Monday as new details on the imminent arrival of the first doses were released by the federal government.
Ford said adults in Indigenous communities, residents of retirement homes, and recipients of chronic home health-care will also be priority groups, but it may be April before the shots are widely available to others.
“Our first shipments of a very small number of doses could arrive as early as next week,” the premier said. “But we’re still very far, and I’ve got to repeat that, very far, from having the millions of vaccines we need for mass immunization.”
Retired Gen. Rick Hiller, who is leading Ontario’s vaccine task force, said the province will receive 2.4 million doses — allowing it to vaccinate 1.2 million people — during the first three months of 2021.
The province said it will also be prioritizing the rollout of the vaccine in regions with the highest rates of COVID-19 infection, including those in the red “control” and grey “lockdown” zones.
Hillier said the vaccine will be more broadly available to the public starting in April, during the second phase of the rollout, and it will take between six to nine months to distribute shots across the province.
“People are going to have to be patient that their turn will come,” he said.
The third and final phase of the plan would then see the vaccine available through places like pharmacies on a regular basis, he said.
The province may need to set up vaccination centres as it is still unsure of logistics surrounding the transportation of doses. That could mean it is not initially possible to ship some doses directly to long-term care homes, he added.
Instead, long-term care workers or essential caregivers coming in and out of the facilities will be vaccinated first in order to protect residents, he said.
“That will change dramatically the risk to the residents,” Hillier said. “As soon as we can move the vaccines we want to go into those long-term care homes and do the residents there …We may not be able to do it right away, we’re planning for both cases.”
Ontario’s medical officer of health said Monday that Pfizer, which manufacturers one of the vaccines, has indicated their doses will need to be stored at very cold temperatures and should not be shaken.
“Too much movement can cause a deterioration in the product,” he said. “That’s their recommendation at this time. If want to give the vaccine, we want to make sure it’s as efficacious as possible.”
NDP deputy leader Sara Singh said families with loved ones in long-term care need assurances from the government that residents will receive the vaccines quickly.
“We can’t turn back the clock, but Mr. Ford can and must come forward with a plan that is transparent about details including what options they’re considering to get long-term care residents vaccinated,” she said in a statement.
Ontario reported 1,925 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, and 26 new deaths related to the virus.
There were 601 new cases in Toronto, 512 in Peel Region, and 167 in York Region.
Williams said that while the numbers are concerning, they are not as high as the 6,000 daily cases predicted by modelling figures last month.
The province will provide updated modelling data later this week and Williams said that could give the province some indication whether lockdowns in Toronto and Peel Region that started two weeks ago have worked.
“Some of the individuals who do some of the data analysis have said they are seeing indications that the lockdown has had an effect,” Williams said.
“The numbers in those lockdown areas have gone up and down by a small per cent. They have not escalated at the rate they were before.”