Ontario expects to receive its first shipment of the Moderna vaccine in the next 24 hours and plans to vaccinate more than half of its population by the summer, the chair of the province’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force said Tuesday.
The news comes as the province faces criticism for closing several vaccination clinics during the holidays.
Retired Gen. Rick Hillier told reporters “in hindsight it was the wrong decision” and said he accepts the responsibility to move more quickly to ensure Ontarians get vaccinated.
Ontario has vaccinated more than 14,000 people with the Pfizer vaccine and expects 50,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to arrive soon. The province will continue receiving tens of thousands of doses of both throughout January 2021, Hillier said, and aims to vaccinate more than a million Ontarians — primarily health-care workers and people in vulnerable communities — by the end of March.
Hillier said the Moderna vaccine will be delivered to four sites in southern Ontario, where it will be first administered in at least one retirement or long-term care home within 48-72 hours.
“We want to do it very carefully,” he said. “We want to vaccinate the residents there using the staff in the homes where it’s possible, augmenting them where it’s necessary, and preparing a playbook from that ….”
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Ontario’s First Nations communities will also be prioritized in the Moderna vaccine rollout.
The province will send a small task force to northern Ontario to vaccinate at-risk people in close, isolated communities, particularly around James Bay, Hillier said.
“We know that their medical support is not huge on the ground so if they get COVID-19 in their communities, it would truly be tragic,” he said. “We want to help prevent that.”
After the first phase of the vaccine rollout ending in March, Ontario will receive 15 million doses in the spring and plans to vaccinate 150,000 people per day using mass vaccination sites. Hillier said the province may not be able to depend on hospitals if they are under strain, so vaccines will be given in some pharmacies and other sites like mobile vaccine clinics.
Priorities for spring vaccines will include other people in vulnerable age groups who were missed in phase one, as well as Indigenous people living in urban settings. Groups of people vaccinated in the spring may also include essential, “central” workers like teachers, police officers, paramedics and farm workers.
Phase two will also include Ontarians who don’t have underlying conditions or are not most at risk, Hillier said.
“We will not take any more days off until we win this war against COVID-19.”
By the end of June or early July, the province hopes to have vaccinated a total of 8.5 million people — more than half of its total population.
Hillier said after people 75 and up are vaccinated, the priority will go to people aged 65 and up and will continue to move downward.
“That’s the bulk of Ontarians who we believe are both eligible to take the vaccine and who will want to take the vaccine,” Hillier said.
Around the end of July, the province will move into phase three, a “steady state” of vaccinations where the COVID-19 vaccine is available just like the shingles or flu shots at a family doctor or pharmacy.
Hillier said he’s been encouraged by the number of Ontarians eligible who are choosing to get the vaccine.
“We heard loudly from people this past 36 to 48 hours. They want us rolling all the time and we are, as of this morning,” he said. “We have 19 hospitals that are acting as vaccination sites. We will add to that in this coming week. We will be working straight through. We will not take any more days off until we win this war against COVID-19.”