March 5, 2021, following Health Canada’s approval of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, and Chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force, General Rick Hillier (retired) provided an update on the province’s vaccination plan. The province is now aiming to administer a first dose to every eligible person in Ontario who wishes to receive the vaccine by June 20th.
Premier Ford and General Hillier were joined by Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, Solicitor General, Sylvia Jones, and Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams. Following today’s update, attendees responded to questions from media.
Also this afternoon, Ontario announced that the public health units (PHUs) of North Bay, Peel, and Toronto will transition out of the current Stay-at-Home order and back to the province’s COVID-19 Response Framework, effective Monday, March 8th at 12:01 a.m. North Bay will move to the Red-Control level, while Peel and Toronto will move to Grey-Lockdown. Seven other PHUs will also be re-classified at new levels of the Framework.
Ontario Provides Update on COVID-19 Vaccination Plan
Vaccines Administered to Date
Today, Premier Ford and General Hillier provided an update on Ontario’s ongoing rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. Key points on the vaccination program to date include:
- Ontario has administered over 820,000 doses, with more than 269,000 people in Ontario now fully vaccinated. Ontario will have administered over 1 million doses by next Tuesday.
- The province is nearing completion of the vaccination of priority populations, including residents, staff, and caregivers in long-term care and retirement homes, as well as adults in First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities.
- Through Operation Remote Immunity, the province has visited all 31 fly-in communities with phenomenal uptake of the vaccine. Half of these communities have already been offered a second dose.
Ontario Transitions to Phase 2, Accelerates Vaccination Timelines
In light of the recent approval of two additional vaccines, as well as this week’s recommendation from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) that the interval between first and second doses may be extended to four months, Ontario is following other provinces by accelerating its vaccination timelines. Premier Ford called this week’s NACI announcement a “game changer,” and General Hillier noted that the province is currently transitioning to Phase 2 of its vaccination plan.
General Hillier also noted that the province’s new aim, dependant on supply, is to administer a first dose to every eligible person in Ontario who wants a vaccine by the first day of summer, June 20th. According to the province’s polling data, up to 90 per cent of eligible Ontarians want to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
Phase 2 will focus on vaccinating populations based on age and risk, Including:
- Adults between 60-79 years of age;
- Individuals with specific health conditions and some primary caregivers;
- People who live and work in congregate settings and some primary caregivers;
- People who live in hot spots with high rates of death, hospitalizations, and transmission, and;
- Certain workers who cannot work from home.
Further details on Phase 2 priority populations can be found here.
Over 2 million doses are expected by the end of March. As the vaccine supply increases, vaccines will be available in hospital clinics, primary care settings, mass vaccination sites, mobile clinics, and pharmacies. According to General Hillier, 113 mass vaccination sites will be operating across the province within the next several weeks, with more to be added as supply increases.
Starting March 15th, the province will launch its online booking system and customer service desk to answer questions and support appointment bookings at mass immunization clinics. This will initially support seniors over the age of 80, and will eventually extend to more groups.
Pharmacy Vaccine Administration Pilot
Beginning next week, Ontario will also begin vaccinating adults between the ages of 60-64 in up to 500 participating pharmacies in select regions, including Toronto, Windsor, and Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington. This pilot will distribute approximately 190,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Once the AstraZeneca vaccine supply increases in the weeks to come, the pilot will be scaled up to eventually have pharmacies across Ontario administer these vaccines.
More details on this pilot program are expected to be announced shortly.
Questions from Media
Effect of Vaccinations on COVID-19 Response Framework
In response to questions about the effect of mass vaccinations on the province’s COVID-19 Response Framework, Dr. Williams noted that health officials are monitoring this closely. He added that he anticipates that case counts will drop to the point of eventually no longer requiring the colour-coded framework.
Current Second-Dose Appointments
General Hillier was asked whether the province would honour currently booked second dose appointments, in light of NACI’s recommendation to delay administration of the second dose. General Hillier responded that second dose appointments will be honoured until March 9th. Beginning March 10th, the province will begin following NACI recommendations and extend the interval between doses to four months, with limited exceptions.
General Hillier added that delaying the second dose of the vaccine will enable the province to protect far more people, potentially mitigating a third wave of the pandemic.
Prioritization of Johnson & Johnson Vaccine
When asked how the province would prioritize distribution of the recently-approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine, General Hillier responded that a decision had not yet been made. He suggested that this vaccine, which only requires a single dose, may initially be used for difficult-to-reach populations, including migrant farm workers. He added that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be used broadly across the population once there is sufficient supply.
Ontario Reclassifies PHUs at New Levels of the COVID-19 Response Framework
North Bay, Peel, and Toronto to Transition Back to Framework
This afternoon, it was also announced that the PHUs of North Bay Parry Sound, Peel, and Toronto would be permitted to transition out of the current Stay-at-Home order and back to the provincial COVID-19 Response Framework, effective Monday, March 8th at 12:01 a.m. This decision was made in consultation with Dr. Williams and local medical officers of health, and based on improving public health trends in these regions.
North Bay Parry Sound will return to the Framework at the Red-Control level.
Peel and Toronto will return to the Framework at the Grey-Lockdown level.
Reclassification of Additional PHUs
In addition, seven other PHUs will be reclassified at the following new levels of the Framework, also effective Monday, March 8th at 12:01 a.m.:
- Peterborough Public Health;
- Public Health Sudbury and Districts; and,
- Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit.
- Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit; and,
- Timiskaming Health Unit.
- Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit; and,
- Renfrew County and District Health Unit.