Coronavirus: Hamilton, Niagara change vaccine rollout plans amid Pfizer delivery delays

A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. EPA/VASSIL DONEV

A number of municipalities across Southern Ontario are changing or expected to change their COVID-19 vaccination rollout plans amid direction from the province over the weekend to limit distribution to just residents, staff and essential caregivers in long-term care homes and high-risk retirement homes.

The action comes as word trickled down from Ottawa that Pfizer’s European manufacturing facilities would be reducing deliveries to all countries in order to expand its European manufacturing facility.

“We are doing everything that we can to work with the federal government to receive more supplies, but the fact is that Pfizer is doing some retooling at their plant in Belgium, and so we will see our supplies reduced for a period of time,” Health Minister Christine Elliot said in a provincial briefing on Monday.

Read more: Coronavirus: Hamilton reports 102 new COVID-19 cases, death at long-term care home

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With that news, the Ford government also extended the window for the second dose of vaccinations to 42 days as opposed to the 21 to 27 days recommended by vaccine manufacturer Pfizer-BioNtech.

Hamilton public health said with the change in delivery schedules from Queen’s Park and Ottawa, the city will likely not see any new vaccines until March.

“So we are still able to go forward with first doses for residents of staff and essential caregivers in long-term care homes and high-risk retirement homes, as we had planned,” the city’s medical officer of health Dr. Elizabeth Richardson said in an update on Monday.

“That’s on target to be completed by Wednesday for the first doses. Of course, the second doses need to follow on, and at this point we believe we are going to have supply to do those on time in those settings.”

Richardson said the delay is likely not only to affect the Pfizer doses but the Moderna vaccines as well.

She said the fixed vaccination site at the Hamilton Health Science (HHS) will provide second doses to those who received their initial shot at the hospital, while the mobile clinic will also return to homes where initial shots were given.

So far, Hamilton has administered over 13,400 vaccines and has completed inoculation of residents at more than a dozen high-risk long-term care homes and retirement residences that have been plagued by outbreaks over the last few months.

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Shalon Village and Grace Villa are just a couple of homes that have seen vaccinations completed. Both are in the midst of ongoing outbreaks, with Grace Villa accounting for over 200 COVID-19 cases among staff and residents since an outbreak began in late November and Shalom Village with 176 cases in a surge that began on Dec. 9.

Second doses have just begun for those who received their first shot in December, although not all of the needed second doses have arrived in the city, according to Richardson.

“They’re not all in the storage freezers at this point in time, although a good number of them are, ” said Richardson.

“So that vaccine supply will be coming in over the following weeks, but at a much-reduced rate from what was anticipated earlier.”

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Public health also revealed that some hospital workers not on the province’s priority list have also been vaccinated.

Richardson said that was due to extra doses having been shipped to the city and not want to let the extras go to waste. Front-line health-care workers on standby, particularly in COVID units and ICUs, were some that received the extra shots.

Read more: Ontario reports 2,578 new coronavirus cases, 24 more deaths

“In the early days … as we were gaining experience with the vaccine, understanding how it could be thawed and how many doses would come from a vial and all those sorts of things, it was very much encouraged and continues to be encouraged that not a single dose gets wasted,” Richardson said.

Vaccinations for hospital staff and physicians in Niagara on hold

Niagara’s acting medical officer of health called the announcement from the province “disruptive” as the region fights rising case numbers and outbreaks in recent weeks.

“It is frustrating that vaccines to Niagara are being reduced again, when we have only just started vaccinating,” said Dr. Mustafa Hirji.

“We are directing what vaccine we still do have to where it will save the most lives: long-term care and retirement home residents.”

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The news came just days after the region’s chair, Jim Bradley, announced a vaccination task force to distribute the vaccine based on provincial guidelines.

As of Monday, the region had only administered 1,416 total vaccine doses to 56 per cent of its long-term care homes and 7 per cent of targeted high-risk retirement homes, including recent trouble spots like Oakwood Park lodge and Millenium Trail Manor.

Lynn Guerriero, president and interim CEO for Niagara Health, said the supply shortages of the Pfizer vaccine means a plan to vaccinate the agency’s staff and physicians will now be put on hold.

“The interruption in supply is deeply disappointing and impacts on our plans to continue vaccinating Niagara Health staff and physicians who are on the front line against COVID-19,” said Guerriero.

Read more: 13 ‘Hugs Over Masks’ protestors charged after another demonstration at Hamilton city hall

Public health says Niagara’s weekly shipment of the Pfizer vaccine was delivered on Monday as planned. However, the shipment for the week of Jan. 25 will no longer occur.

The next arrival date for vaccines in Niagara is now set for Feb. 1 and Feb. 8, with further supply to be determined on a weekly basis by the province.

There is no plan for Niagara to receive the Moderna vaccine, which is disappointing for Guerriero.

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“With 53 active outbreaks of the virus in the region and 81 COVID-positive patients receiving care in hospital today, as well 252.1 cases per week per 100,000 population and a positivity rate of 7.6 per cent, COVID activity in Niagara is serious,” said Guerriero.

“We’ll continue our advocacy for more supply of both Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.”

Brant County to continue with vaccination rollout as planned

Meanwhile, Brant County did not reveal a change to any of their vaccination plans amid news of the province’s slowdown in deliveries.

Spokesperson Ryan Spiteri said the county’s health unit expects to meet provincial benchmarks for vaccinating all local long-term care residents and staff who wish to participate by February 15.

“First doses will continue to be administered with the vaccine supply we have,” said Spiteri.

Unlike Niagara Region, Brant County did receive doses of the Moderna vaccine.

So far, the region has vaccinated just over 1,000 people.