The Ontario government said it has cut back on administering COVID-19 vaccines during the Christmas holidays due to staff shortages.
“As with any holiday season, ensuring proper staff coverage can be challenging,” the Ministry of Health said in a statement.
“Schedules for vaccination clinics were adjusted over the holidays to ensure that there was no impact on staffing levels within the long-term care homes or for the hospitals operating the clinics.”
The government said that as of 4 p.m. Monday, a total of 13,200 vaccines have been administered in Ontario.
The province has received about 96,000 initial dozes of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from the federal government. Every person vaccinated is required to receive two doses, 21 days apart.
The doses are being delivered to 19 hospital sites across Ontario which are equipped to administer the shots, the government said.
Despite the slow-down in inoculations, Ministry of Health spokesperson Alexandra Hilkene said the government expects to get through the rest of its initial doses “in the next several days.”
Last week, the provincial government said around 53,000 doses of the recently-approved Moderna vaccine were also expected to arrive in Ontario by the end of the month.
The government said approximately five hospitals operated clinics on Sunday, around 10 on Monday and added that all of the clinics will be back up and running to give the COVID-19 shots on Tuesday. Clinics operated with shortened hours on Christmas Eve and were closed on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
“Given the opportunity, I’d gladly sign up to vaccinate. I know many other health workers who feel the same,” one physician said on Twitter. “Where there is a will, there is a way.”
Another health-care worker tweeted: “I would gladly volunteer my time. Any time, any day. As would many other health care professionals.”
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath also expressed criticism in response tweeting: “Two weeks in, we should be urgently mobilizing to vaccinate those who need it most. Instead, tens of thousands of life-saving doses still sit in freezers.”
Health Canada approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Dec. 9 and the Moderna vaccine was approved on Dec. 23.
Staff and health-care workers at hospitals, retirement and long-term are homes are being prioritized for the first rounds of inoculations. Due to Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine needing to be refrigerated at -70 C, people must go to select hospitals to get that shot.
Hilkene also announced Monday evening that the province has changed its policy on reserving vaccines for second doses.
“We are not holding or reserving doses, and are vaccinating as many people as possible, counting on confirmed shipments of the vaccine that will arrive over the coming weeks for second doses,” Hilkene said.
Meanwhile, retired Gen. Rick Hillier, the head of Ontario’s COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force, is expected to provide an update on the rollout Tuesday morning.
— With files from Ryan Rocca