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Retired Gen. Rick Hillier, chair of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force, confirmed Ontario plans to vaccinate about 8.5 million people by July 2021. The province is expected to receive its first shipment of the Moderna vaccine on Wednesday.
The first phase of the vaccine rollout plan, which will covers until the end of March 2021, is set to see one million people vaccinated, targeting healthcare workers, individuals in long-term care and retirement homes, and First Nations communities.
The second phase, which is expected to occur between April and early July 2021, will see the arrival of 15 million vaccine doses in Ontario, which will allow the province to vaccinate an additional 7.5 million people. Hillier said during this timeframe, vaccines will continue to be administered to the priority groups from phase one, in addition to essential workers (including first responders), seniors and more vulnerable populations who live in the community.
The third phase, which Hillier called the “steady state,” will see the introduction of the general population being immunized.
When asked if the province is distributing COVID-19 vaccine fast enough, the chair of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force said Ontario is not, but stressed that more vaccination sites will be added, with more people able to administer vaccines.
To date, more than 14,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have been administered, about 15 per cent of the 95,000 doses the province has received so far.
Hillier is also calling on Health Canada to look into making the Moderna vaccine a single shot option, as opposed to requiring two doses about a month apart.
Hillier said he has not seen any evidence of this being an effective method of protecting individuals from COVID-19 but he wants the federal government to look into it.
“It’s late to ask for a Christmas gift but if I could ask for one I would ask Health Canada to re-look at the Moderna vaccine, and see if we could make that a one-shot vaccine and give us that...greater capacity to go out and vaccinate people even faster than we plan on doing now,” Hillier said at a press conference on Tuesday.
“I don’t have evidence, what I have is a discussion amongst medical colleagues who come together and then talk to us and advise us and say...the one shot of Moderna vaccine offers an incredible amount of protection and why wouldn’t we at least consider making it a one-shot vaccine. Getting that vaccine into people’s arms therefore much more quickly and offering that heightened level of protection in a way that we simply won’t be able to do by making it a two-shot vaccination program.”
‘We will not take anymore days off’
Over the weekend, the Ontario government received criticism for slowing its vaccination distribution plans over Christmas. Hillier said this was due to limited staffing in long-term care facilities and hospitals running vaccine clinics. He could not provide an exact figure for how many of these settings had communicated reduced staff during this time but all 19 vaccine clinics are now back in operation.
“We will not take anymore days off until we win this war against COVID-19,” Hillier said. “In hindsight, it was the wrong decision.”
“What I agreed to was that out in the long-term care homes and out in the retirement homes, you’ve got staffs who have been running flat out for 10 months... Over the Christmas period, there was some sort of downsizing in the number of people who would be on duty in those home and therefore available to come in for vaccines. We made the decision that over those two days we would not run the clinics and we would just go faster, as quickly as possible, and catch up.”