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Advisory group says speeding up vaccine rollout to Ontario LTC homes would prevent deaths, cases

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Ontario government commits to vaccinating all long-term care workers, residents by Feb. 15 despite vaccine shortage' Coronavirus: Ontario government commits to vaccinating all long-term care workers, residents by Feb. 15 despite vaccine shortage
WATCH ABOVE: Ontario Premier Doug Ford says all long-term care and high-risk retirement homes will receive vaccinations by Feb. 15 despite a shortage of Pfizer vaccines. As Morganne Campbell reports, the backlog is causing a delay in the province's rollout plan. – Jan 19, 2021

TORONTO — Refocusing Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout on long-term care residents would prevent 115 deaths and hundreds more cases by the end of March, according to projections from a team of experts advising the government on the pandemic.

The report predicted that giving a first dose to all long-term care residents by Jan. 31 would save lives, and speeding up the rollout would be even more effective.

Read more: Ontario long-term care residents describe devastating impact of isolation during COVID-19 pandemic

It concluded the January date would prevent 600 people from becoming infected, compared with the government’s current plan to vaccinate all long-term care residents by Feb. 15.

The Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table made the forecasts in the report published Thursday by modelling best and worst outcomes from three vaccine rollout scenarios up to March 31.

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It also looked at the potential impact if all residents had been vaccinated by Jan. 21, finding in a best-case scenario, hundreds of lives could potentially have been saved before March 31.

The report said long-term care residents should be prioritized if vaccine supply issues arise.

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“If vaccine supply is limited, the early provision of first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to (long-term care) home residents is likely to be more beneficial than the on-schedule provision of second doses to health care workers outside of LTC homes,” the report said.

Asked whether the province would adjust its rollout plan based on the findings, a spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott said the schedule depends on supply.

“We continue to vaccinate long-term care home residents as quickly as we receive vaccines from the federal government,” Alexandra Hilkene said in a statement.

Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton’s office directed questions to the health ministry.

Liberal long-term care critic John Fraser issued a statement on the report, criticizing the Progressive Conservative government’s vaccine rollout to seniors in care as too slow.

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“We are failing residents in long-term care and the government’s February 15 vaccination target is simply not good enough. It will cost lives,” Fraser said.

As of Friday, 3,298 long-term care residents had died from COVID-19, and 13,746 had tested positive for the illness, according to government figures. Forty-two deaths were reported between Thursday and Friday.

Thursday’s report noted the “disproportionately high rates” of COVID-19 infections and deaths among nursing home residents in Ontario.

Based on figures as of Jan. 17, long-term care residents accounted for more than 59 per cent of Ontario’s total deaths from COVID-19.

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