TORONTO — Vaccine supply delays mean Ontario won’t meet its goal of giving all nursing-home residents the first dose of a COVID-19 shot by Friday.
The government said Tuesday that all long-term care, high-risk retirement and First Nations elder care home residents will now receive their first dose by Feb. 10. It also said the shortage of shots mean some vaccination sites are sitting idle.
“The shipment delays with the Pfizer vaccine have been incredibly disappointing,” said Premier Doug Ford. “And to be told on Friday that we would receive 18,200 less doses of the Moderna vaccine, I can’t stress how frustrating that is.”
The government said that it expects to receive about 80 per cent fewer doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine over the first two weeks of this month, and approximately 20 per cent fewer Moderna shots this week.
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Retired Gen. Rick Hillier, who leads the province’s vaccine distribution task force, said the federal government has provided no information on Pfizer shipments after Feb. 22, adding that Ontario is experiencing a “drought” in doses.
Some of the province’s vaccination sites are sitting idle as they wait for further supply, he said.
“All of us are a little disappointed, a little frustrated, and champing at the bit to do more,” he said.
The government had initially said it planned to administer first doses of the vaccine to all long-term care home residents, staff and caregivers by Feb. 15.
It changed that plan last week because of a drop in shipments from Pfizer, saying vaccinations of long-term care staff and essential caregivers were being put on hold so that doses could go to vulnerable nursing-home residents.
At the time, it said those residents would get their first doses by Feb. 5.
The province said Tuesday that it will earmark shots arriving in the coming weeks for second doses that need to be administered to those who got their first shot. Those doses must be provided within the 42-day window recommended for full immunization.
Health officials noted earlier Tuesday, however, that they are not currently holding back doses in order to ensure second shots.
They said Pfizer shipments are set to return nearly to previously expected levels starting Feb. 15, with over 285,000 doses to arrive over two weeks.
Those same provincial health officials also expressed optimism that Health Canada may approve a third vaccine _ the U.K.-based AstraZeneca shot _ as early as next week.
Overall, Ontario expects to receive 310,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines during the rest of February.
The province said that once supply stabilizes, it will expand immunization efforts to once again give vaccines to long-term care staff and essential caregivers.
A total of 344,615 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Ontario so far.
Provincial data indicates more than 134,000 shots have gone to health care workers and more than 59,000 have been given to long-term care residents.
Deaths in long-term care continue to mount, however, with the province reporting Tuesday that 3,618 nursing-home residents have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
Ford said the government has moved quickly to get the vaccines to nursing-home residents, and pushed back against criticism over some non-frontline hospital workers receiving the shot.
“When there were seats open and people didn’t show up for the appointments, we had two choices, either toss the vaccines in the garbage or find a health-care worker to take the seat,” he said.
Liberal health critic John Fraser said the province has failed to get its limited vaccine supply to where it’s needed most.
“It was (Ford’s) government’s failure to be decisive and act quickly that has made the tragedy in long-term care so much worse,” he said in a statement.
The province also said Tuesday that health teams will begin distributing vaccines in First Nations fly-in communities in northern Ontario this week.
The province said the teams will provide Moderna shots in Neskantaga, Slate Falls, Muskrat Dam, Fort Severn, Kashechewan and Webequie.
Over the next three months, the Ornge air ambulance service will transport doses of the vaccine to 31 Nishnawbe Aski Nation fly-in communities and Moosonee.