December 15, 2020, Premier Doug Ford, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, Solicitor General, Sylvia Jones, and Chair of the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force, General Rick Hillier (retired), provided an update on the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines in Ontario. The Ottawa Hospital began administering vaccines today, following Canada’s first COVID-19 vaccine yesterday at University Health Network (UHN) in Toronto. According to General Hillier, the province expects to receive 90,000 additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the next two to three weeks, which will be expanded to 17 additional sites across Ontario.
Following this afternoon’s update, Premier Ford, Minister Elliott, and General Hillier responded to questions from media.
Earlier today, the government announced the allocation of an additional $120 million to help municipalities and Indigenous community partners protect the health and safety of vulnerable people during COVID-19. Funding will be delivered through the Social Services Relief Fund and will be used to respond to local housing pressures. Community partners may use the funding to improve service delivery, protect homeless shelter staff and residents, renovate and purchase facilities for longer-term housing solutions, add to rent banks, and support planning for future emergencies.
This morning, the Ministry of Long-Term Care approved a Voluntary Management Contract allowing Scarborough Health Network to provide enhanced support to Craiglee Nursing Home in Scarborough. Yesterday, the Ministry also issued a Mandatory Management Order requiring Revera Long-Term Care Inc. to retain UniversalCare Canada Inc. to temporarily manage Westside long-term care home in Etobicoke. Both agreements will remain in effect for 90 days and may be extended, if necessary.
Questions from Media
Provincial Vaccination Capacity
In response to questions about how many Ontarians will be able to be vaccinated for COVID-19 each day once the province begins receiving mass shipments, General Hillier said “thousands.” He expanded that both UHN and The Ottawa Hospital have the capacity to vaccinate 1,000 people per day, and that the next 17 sites will also have “significant capacity.” General Hillier added that, upon the arrival of the Moderna vaccine (which is easier to store than the Pfizer vaccine) and the completion of immunization in long-term care and retirement homes, the province will introduce mass vaccination sites to complete the mass immunization of Ontarians as quickly as possible.
General Hillier said that he is confident the province will be able to vaccinate residents as quickly as vaccine supply arrives.
Priority Populations for COVID-19 Vaccine
General Hillier elaborated on the province’s plans to prioritize the vaccination of health care workers and caregivers of seniors in long-term care homes. He explained that, because the Pfizer vaccines cannot be easily transported, the task force determined that transporting vulnerable long-term care residents to vaccination sites would increase the level of risk for this population. Instead, the task force decided that these vulnerable populations would be better protected by prioritizing the vaccination of those caring for them until the Moderna vaccine becomes available and vaccination sites can be established within long-term care homes.
Once the Moderna vaccine becomes available, the province will prioritize the vaccination of residents of long-term care homes, retirement homes, and congregate settings in regions of the province categorized as Grey-Lockdown and Red-Control. According to General Hillier, it will take a span of “weeks or months” to complete this step.
General Hillier also noted that Ontario expects to have enough vaccinations for about 1.2 million people by the end of Q1 2021. This falls just slightly short of the approximately 1.4 million vulnerable Ontarians and health care workers who must be vaccinated before more widescale immunization efforts can begin.
Provincial COVID-19 Trends
Premier Ford was asked about Quebec’s decision to close non-essential businesses province-wide for two weeks after the holiday season. The closure will begin on December 25 and will remain in effect until January 11. In response, Premier Ford confirmed that “everything is on the table” to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Ontario. Minister Elliott added that the government is working with the Chief Medical Officer of Health and the public health measures table to determine other solutions to help the province bring down record-high COVID-19 numbers.