February 2, 2021, Premier Doug Ford and Chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force, General Rick Hiller (retired), provided an update on the province’s ongoing COVID-19 immunization program. They were accompanied by Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, and Solicitor General, Sylvia Jones.
Due to ongoing supply challenges and shipment delays with the vaccines, Ontario has pushed back its goal for administering first doses to residents of long-term care, high-risk retirement, and First Nations elder care homes, from February 5th to February 10th.
In Northern Ontario, vaccination teams will begin distributing vaccines in remote fly-in First Nations communities this week.
This morning, the government announced an investment of $6.48 million to strengthen mental health and addiction supports for victims, front-line workers, Indigenous families, and youth involved in the justice system. The funding will allow victim assistance organizations to hire more staff, and provide safe housing and mental health services for First Nations youth and families, and help community organizations provide COVID-19 emergency services. This investment is part of the $147 million in mental health and addictions supports announced in December 2020.
Later this morning, the government also launched an online consultation to seek input on the province’s plan to introduce a digital ID by the end of 2021. Through a Digital ID, people and businesses in Ontario will be able to securely prove their identity online. This will offer more convenient access to government and private sector services, and would support COVID-19 safety protocols by limiting unnecessary in-person contact.
Update on COVID-19 Immunization Program
Today, Premier Ford and General Hillier provided an update on Ontario’s ongoing COVID-19 immunization program. Vaccines administered as of February 1st include:
- Over 344,000 doses, including approximately 91,000 doses administered to long-term care and retirement home staff, 138,000 doses administered to health care workers, and 90,000 doses administered to long-term care and retirement home residents.
- More than 70,000 complete immunizations (both doses received).
Due to ongoing supply challenges and shipment delays, Ontario has revised its target date to complete first doses among residents of long-term care, high-risk retirement, and First Nations elder care homes. As a result of this, the target date of February 5th, set last week, has been pushed to February 10th. Premier Ford called these supply challenges “incredibly disappointing and frustrating.”
Approximately 310,000 doses of the vaccine are expected in the remaining weeks of February. Once sufficient doses are available, vaccinations will resume to provide first doses for staff and essential caregivers in settings with the most vulnerable populations. The province also continues to protect access to second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for those who have received their first dose.
The province is also launching Operation Remote Immunity this week, through which vaccination teams will distribute vaccines in First Nations fly-in communities in Ontario’s north. Ornge, Ontario’s provider of air ambulance and critical care transport services, will provide the vaccine to community members aged 18 and older in 31 Nishnawbe Aski Nation fly-in communities and Moosonee over the next three months. The province is also in the process of planning for vaccine distribution to additional First Nations communities and urban Indigenous populations.
Currently, the province has the capacity to vaccinate nearly 40,000 people per day, and is working to triple or quadruple this capacity pending vaccine supply.
Planning for Subsequent Phases of Immunization Campaign
According to General Hillier, Ontario is working with its 34 public health units to plan for their execution of the province’s vaccination program in the latter part of Phase 1 and subsequent phases. The province is also in the process of developing an IT framework to support an online registration process, as well as a public communications plan, once vaccines are more widely available.
Phase 2 of the province’s immunization program is expected to begin in late March or early April, depending on vaccine supply. Three main groups will be prioritized in this phase:
- Higher-risk age groups, beginning with Ontarians aged 80 and older and decreasing in five-year increments;
- Communities with a higher risk of COVID-19 transmission, using mobile/community clinics; and
- Essential workers, including educators, first responders, and food supply chain workers (e.g. farmers and food processing workers).
Other venues which will administer the vaccine once it is more widely available include mass vaccination clinics, primary care providers, and pharmacies.