November 23, 2020, Premier Doug Ford announced the creation of the Ministers’ COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force, which will build on steps already taken by the Ontario government to prepare for the delivery of a COVID-19 vaccine and advise on an immunization program. The Task Force will be Chaired by General Rick Hillier, former Chief of Defence Staff for the Canadian Forces and Commander of the NATO-led forces in Afghanistan.
Premier Ford was joined by Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, Solicitor General, Sylvia Jones, and Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe. Following this afternoon’s announcement, Premier Ford, Minister Elliott, and Dr. Yaffe responded to questions from media.
The government also tabled a motion today to reappoint Dr. David Williams as Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, commencing February 16, 2021 up until September 1, 2021. The motion failed to receive unanimous consent in the Legislature. As a result, a debate and vote on the matter will now be required.
Dr. Williams had previously announced plans to retire in February, but has agreed to the proposed extension.
Ministers’ COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force
This afternoon, Premier Ford and Minister Elliott announced the creation of the Ministers’ COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force, in preparation of the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine in Ontario.
The Task Force will be Chaired by General Rick Hillier, former Chief of Defence Staff for the Canadian Forces and Commander of the NATO-led forces in Afghanistan. According to Premier Ford, General Hillier is well-suited to oversee the work of the Task Force, which will be the “largest logistical undertaking in a generation.” Deputy Minister of Health, Helen Angus, and Deputy Minister of Community Safety, Mario Di Tommaso, have been named Vice-Chairs.
The Ministers’ COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force will include cross-government and external representatives with expertise in operations and logistics, federal-provincial relations, health and clinical domains, public health and immunization, ethics, and information technology and data.
The Task Force will advise government on the following areas related to COVID-19 vaccine distribution:
- Delivery, storage, and distribution of the vaccines;
- Support for health care system partners to deliver a phased vaccination program that initially prioritizes vulnerable populations and follows with mass immunization;
- Clinical guidance on vaccine administration and surveillance of vaccine uptake;
- Data, reporting, and technology to provide timely, relevant and accurate information to clinicians conducting vaccine administration, decision-makers, and the public; and
- Implementation of a broad, sustained public education and community outreach effort to encourage vaccination.
Other Task Force members will be announced in the coming days.
Questions from Media
Lockdowns in Toronto and Peel
In response to questions about the projected length of lockdowns in Toronto and Peel, Dr. Yaffe explained that the province’s Keeping Ontario Safe and Open framework recommends a period of 28 days before loosening public health measures in a region. She confirmed that the 28-day schedule, representing two two-week incubation periods, is likely to be followed before moving Toronto and Peel out of lockdown. Given Dr. Yaffe’s comments, the earliest date on which the lockdown could be lifted in Toronto and Peel is Monday, December 21, 2020.
Premier Ford was asked why large box and department stores within regions in ‘lockdown’ were permitted to remain open to sell essential goods, such as groceries and hardware, while also continuing to sell non-essential items. The Premier was also asked whether he would consider an approach taken by Manitoba, which permitted large retailers to remain open, but required that they section off areas of their store deemed non-essential. These questions follow criticism from small business owners that have noted policies in Ontario unfairly punish smaller businesses.
In response, Premier Ford rejected implementing the approach taken in Manitoba, which he said would be a “logistical nightmare” for large retailers and consumers. He also acknowledged that COVID-19 has been unfair to small business owners and urged Ontarians to support these businesses where possible.
Timeline for Vaccine Rollout
When asked for an expected timeline for the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, Minister Elliott explained that the government is currently in the process of finalizing exactly when the first doses will be released, as well as how many doses will be included. She added that there will be two initial stages of vaccine delivery, with the first occurring between now and March 2021, and the second between March and July 2021.