March 10, 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 rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. As vaccine supply increases, delivery channels are being expanded to include pharmacies and primary care settings.

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, Premier Ford, General Hillier, and Minister Elliott responded to questions from media.

Additional Announcements

The government also announced $255 million to help municipalities and Indigenous program partners respond to increases in COVID-19 cases in some emergency shelters.

Earlier today, Ontario announced the new Tourism Economic Recovery Ministerial Task Force, which will be chaired by former MPP and Cabinet minister, Tim Hudak. The Task Force will provide recommendations to the Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism, and Culture Industries, Lisa MacLeod, on how to support Ontario’s tourism sector with COVID-19 recovery. Recommendations will be released through a report this spring.

This morning, the government announced $39.5 million to help Mitacs create up to 8,000 paid innovative research internships and upskilling opportunities for post-secondary students, postdoctoral fellows, and recent graduates. This investment will support the government’s efforts to build a skilled workforce to support Ontario’s economic recovery from COVID-19.

Further Details

Update on Ontario COVID-19 Vaccination Efforts

Today, Premier Ford and General Hillier provided an update on the province’s ongoing efforts to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine. Key points include:

  • By the end of today, March 10, Ontario is expected to have administered its one-millionth dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
  • The province expects to administer another one million doses in the next three weeks, for a total of two million doses administered by the end of March.
  • More than 120 new mass immunization clinics will be open by the end of March, with the capacity to administer up to 150,000 doses per day, contingent on vaccine supply.
  • Next Monday, March 15, the province’s customer service desk and online booking systems will launch. These supports will help answer questions and book appointments at mass immunization clinics, starting with those over the age of 80.

Pharmacies and Primary Care Settings to Begins Administering Vaccines

As vaccine supply increases, Ontario is also expanding the delivery channels available to administer COVID-19 vaccines to include pharmacies and primary care settings.

As of Friday, March 12, over 325 pharmacies will be offering the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine to eligible Ontarians aged 60-64. This is part of a pilot program that will be initially offered in the public health units (PHUs) of Toronto, Windsor-Essex, and Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington. Vaccines will be offered by appointment only. Those eligible and interested in booking appointments can visit a list of participating pharmacies.

The vaccine rollout will be expanded to more pharmacies across the province as vaccine supply increases.

Ontario is also working with primary care professionals to offer the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine in primary care settings and community locations, such as physician offices, in collaboration with PHUs. This initiative will begin as of Saturday, March 13 in Hamilton, Toronto, Guelph, Peterborough, Simcoe-Muskoka, and Peel. Primary care providers will be contacting eligible Ontarians aged 60-64 directly to book an appointment.

The expanded number of settings in which Ontarians may receive COVID vaccines follows the arrival of 194,500 doses of the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine. According to General Hillier, of the total amount, 29,500 will be allocated to family physicians and primary care settings, with the remainder distributed to 327 participating pharmacies.

The Ontario government is preparing to move into Phase Two of its COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan next month, with a focus on vaccinating populations based on age and risk. General Hillier noted that the province and its 34 PHUs are “in a really good position” to be prepared for the coming “onslaught of vaccines.”

Questions from Media

Risk of Multiple Appointment Bookings

In response to questions about measures to prevent people from booking multiple vaccine appointments to guarantee access to the vaccine, General Hillier noted that booking multiple appointments shouldn’t be possible, because appointments are booked based on address and postal code. He urged Ontarians to avoid overwhelming the system by attempting to book more than one appointment, and reassured Ontarians that those who book appointments will receive their vaccine.

NACI Recommendation Re: Dosage Intervals

When asked about the province’s decision to follow the National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s (NACI) recommendation of permitting intervals of up to four months between first and second vaccine doses, Minister Elliott responded that this practice has been deemed “safe and effective” by NACI. She added that given the quantity of expected vaccines, it is unlikely that many Ontarians will be required to wait the full four months between receiving a first and second dose.

Primary Care Settings – Prioritization of Patients

When asked whether family physicians had been provided guidance on how to prioritize their patients for the COVID-19 vaccine, Premier Ford responded that these doctors know their patients best, and are well-positioned to decide who should be first in line for the vaccine.

Thunder Bay Community Spread

In response to questions about a spike in cases in Thunder Bay, Minister Elliott noted that the government is working with the local medical officer of health and the federal government to support the response in the region. The province is providing resources to enhance case and contact management, and is also building capacity in the local hospital so that patients can receive care locally if needed.

Size of 60-64 Population

In response to questions about the size of Ontario’s 60-64 population, General Hillier noted that this group encompasses approximately one million people, compared to 194,500 doses of the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine that were supplied in the province’s first shipment. He added that the province will provide updates on the size and timing of the next shipment of this vaccine once this information is available.

Funding to Protect Homeless Shelters during COVID-19

Earlier, the province announced $255 million to help municipalities and Indigenous program partners respond to increases in COVID-19 cases in some emergency shelters. The funding is intended to protect residents and staff of homeless shelters, and to help prevent more people from becoming homeless.

Municipal service managers and Indigenous program partners can use the social services relief funding to acquire motel and hotel spaces to support physical distancing of shelter residents. Funding can also be used to hire additional staff, purchase personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, and add to rent and utility banks.