January 13, 2021, Premier Doug Ford and Chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force, General Rick Hillier (retired), provided an update on Ontario’s ongoing COVID-19 immunization program. Additional details were outlined on the second phase of the program, which is expected to begin in the spring. By the end of phase two, approximately 8.5 million people are expected to have been vaccinated in Ontario.
Premier Ford and General Hillier were joined by Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, and Solicitor General, Sylvia Jones. Following this afternoon’s update, all attendees responded to questions from media.
The Ministry of Long-Term Care approved two voluntary management contracts today, allowing for enhanced support to be provided to long-term care homes struggling to manage COVID-19 outbreaks. Unity Health Toronto will provide enhanced support to Copernicus Lodge and North Wellington Health Care Corporation will provide enhanced support to Caressant Care Arthur Nursing Home. Both agreements will remain in effect for at least 90 days, and may be extended if necessary.
Update on Ontario’s COVID-19 Immunization Program
This afternoon, Premier Ford and General Hillier provided an update on phase one of Ontario’s COVID-19 immunization program, which involves vaccinating Ontario’s most vulnerable populations and health care workers.
According to Premier Ford, Ontario currently has the capacity to administer up to 20,000 vaccines per day. This capacity is planned to increase to 40,000 per day in February. By the completion of phase one, approximately 1.5 million people are expected to have been vaccinated in Ontario.
To date, the following goals have been set for phase one:
- Vaccinate all staff and residents in long-term care and high-risk retirement homes in the four regions with the highest transmission (Toronto, Peel, York, and Windsor-Essex) by January 21.
- Administer the first dose to all staff, residents, and essential caregivers in long-term care and high-risk retirement homes, province-wide, by February 15.
Additional Information on Phase Two of Immunization Program
Following the province’s update on the first phase of the immunization program rollout, Premier Ford and General Hillier provided more details on the next phase of the program, which is expected to begin in late March or early April.
During phase two of Ontario’s immunization program, the province will expand vaccine eligibility to the following groups:
- Older adults, beginning with those 80+ and decreasing in five-year increments over the course of the vaccine rollout;
- Individuals living and working in high-risk congregate settings;
- Frontline essential workers (e.g. first responders, teachers, food processing industry workers);
- Individuals with high-risk chronic conditions and their caregivers.
Phase two is expected to be completed by the end of July, by which point up to 8.5 million people are expected to have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Phase three will begin as early as August, pending vaccine availability.
Ontario is expanding the list of health care providers who are permitted to administer COVID-19 vaccines to support a quick rollout. Eligible health care professionals include nurse practitioners, registered nurses and registered practical nurses, pharmacists, pharmacy students, interns, and pharmacy technicians. Health care professionals can register to administer the vaccine through Ontario’s health matching portal.
The province is also adding more vaccination sites in preparation for phase two, including municipally-run sites, hospital sites, mobile sites, pharmacies, clinics, primary care settings, and community locations. The first municipally-run site was announced by the City of Toronto earlier this week and will open on January 18 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
Questions from Media
Capacity of Ontario Hospitals
In response to questions about ongoing capacity issues in Ontario hospitals, Premier Ford said that the province’s goal is to open additional intensive care unit (ICU) spaces and field hospitals to boost capacity. Minister Elliott added that the province also hopes to bolster its health human resources capacity, and is working with hospitals to shift loads on a regional basis (such as by moving surgeons from one hospital within a region to another).
Military Assistance in Long-Term Care
In response to yesterday’s updated COVID-19 modelling, which indicated that 40% of Ontario long-term care homes are currently experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks, Premier Ford was asked whether he would once again consider military support to assist with outbreak management. Premier Ford noted that Prime Minister Trudeau offered military support during a conversation earlier today, which the Premier said he would discuss with the Health and Long-Term Care Ministries to determine timing. He added that Ontario planned to accept the Prime Minister’s offer of support.