Coronavirus: Vaccine eligibility expanded to more priority groups in London region

A health-care worker prepares to administer a Pfizer/BioNTEch coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at The Michener Institute, in Toronto on Dec. 14, 2020. CARLOS OSORIO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Health officials in the London, Ont., area say the local coronavirus vaccination campaign is being expanded following updated guidance from the province and a renewed shipment of vaccine.

In a joint statement Tuesday, the Middlesex-London Health Unit along with Huron Perth Public Health and Southwestern Public Health said initial doses of the vaccine would soon begin for additional priority groups identified under Phase 1 of the province’s three-phase vaccination plan.

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The announcement comes ahead of a large shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that is expected this week, officials said.

The health unit says those now eligible to receive an initial dose of the vaccine are:

  • Long-term care home, high-risk retirement home, and First Nations elder care home staff and essential caregivers, in addition to any residents who have not yet gotten a first dose;
  • “Alternate level of care” hospital patients who have a confirmed admission to a long-term care home, retirement home, or other congregate care home for seniors;
  • “Highest Priority” health-care workers as defined by the province, including hospital and acute care staff in front-line roles with COVID-19 patients or with a high-risk of exposure; patient-facing health-care workers involved in the COVID-19 response; and medical first responders, such as paramedics and firefighters providing medical first response;
  • Followed by “Very High Priority” health-care workers, including those in acute care and other hospital settings in patient care areas not included in “Highest Priority”; congregate settings such as assisted living facilities, correctional settings, hospices, shelters, and supportive housing outside of “Highest Priority” level; and those working in community care with high-risk of exposure, like birth centres, dentistry, gynecology, midwifery, nurse practitioner-led clinics, pharmacies, and others; and
  • Indigenous adults in northern remote and higher-risk communities, including on-reserve and urban communities.

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“Health-care workers in provincially-prioritized groups will be able to start getting their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine in the coming days,” the health unit said.

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It’s estimated that the number of health-care workers under the province’s “Highest Priority” and “Very High Priority” definitions number some 15,000 people in London and Middlesex. Details on what health-care workers are included under those two banners can be found here, on the Ontario government website.

Read more: Coronavirus: Health minister says Ontario not ready to release more detailed COVID-19 vaccine plan

The three health units say they will be working with long-term care and retirement homes starting on Tuesday to schedule appointments at the Western Fair District vaccination clinic for staff and essential caregivers who haven’t gotten a first dose yet.

The Western Fair clinic reopened last Monday after being closed for two weeks due to supply issues relating to a production slow-down at Pfizer’s Belgium plant. Since then it’s been administering vaccine to those who had already gotten a first dose, but whose follow-up shot was postponed.

For the last few weeks, the local vaccination campaign has been focused solely on long-term care and high-risk retirement home residents as a result of dwindling local supply of vaccine prompted by the Pfizer delays.

During Tuesday’s media briefing, Dr. Chris Mackie, the region’s medical officer of health, said that second doses for residents of long-term care and high-risk retirement homes would wrap up later this week.

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“By next week, we’ll have low-risk retirement homes receive all of their first doses as well, with second doses within three weeks of that,” Mackie said.

“We’ll also be able, in the next couple of weeks, to start expansion into the population of seniors over age 80. That’s a big development, because we know that group is at highest risk,” he added, noting the province has now moved the group from Phase 2 to Phase 1.

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“To be very clear, at this point, those over 80 are not eligible for vaccination, but they will become so soon, and we’ll have more details… on that over the next couple of weeks.”

Since it opened on Dec. 23, the health unit says some 25,000 doses of vaccine have been administered at the Western Fair clinic to health-care workers and residents of long-term care and high-risk retirement homes, and select health-care staff working in hospitals.

Health officials are aiming to have at least 1,000 people vaccinated per day at the site.

A second clinic is being readied for opening at the Caradoc Community Centre in Mount Brydges. It’s set to open within the next week.

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Two additional clinics are also planned, however, details remain scant.

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