Doug Ford’s vaccine rollout a dangerous race against time

Some 70,000 doses are being administered daily by the province – at the current rate it won't be until late November that we reach herd immunity

Got my vaccine on Saturday. It’s a big relief. I’m part of a new priority group – over 50 years of age and living in a hotspot. A clinic opened in my neighbourhood over the Easter long weekend and I was able to book an appointment and get jabbed within 24 hours. I’m grateful, but it’s no thanks to Doug Ford.

The facility set up at a local arena near my place is run by the city of Toronto. It’s one of 20 run by the city. The province is administering its own supply of vaccines through hospitals and Shoppers Drug Mart stores.

But those looking to book an appointment through the Ontario government site over the weekend got a “page not found” message when they clicked on the “vaccine availability” link, it being a holiday long weekend. When it comes to the coronavirus vaccine rollout, the city is carrying the province’s water.

The province is divvying up vaccines it has to public health units on a per capita basis, even while the health-care system is being stretched by COVID cases in Peel and Toronto and York in particular. So far, priority groups and hotspots outside the elderly and others considered at high risk of morbidity are not being targeted by the province. Essential workers won’t be eligible for a shot until May.

Toronto Board of Health chair Joe Cressy says the city has been arguing for the province to increase vaccine allocation to areas like the GTHA with higher transmission rates. But there are some 1.4 million unused doses in the province’s possession sitting in freezers. The province says that most of those doses are already dedicated to appointments, but that doesn’t square with the fact that hundreds of spots to get a shot are going unfilled at clinics every day.

The numbers don’t lie. Ontario is pulling up the rear compared to other provinces and territories when it comes to its vaccine rollout. An average of some 70,000 doses are being administered a day, according to numbers offered during a technical briefing by Ministry of Health staff on Tuesday. The target is 130,000 a day. At the current rate, however, it won’t be until the fall that we reach immunity.

As of Tuesday, more than 4 million vaccine doses have been delivered to the province by the feds. Some 2.5 million of those have been administered since the first shipment arrived in Ontario in mid-December 2020. The premier was on hand for that photo opportunity and pronounced the province “ready for the road ahead.” He said the province had been preparing for months.

But just as a third wave of the virus is crippling hospitals and we need to get vaccines into the arms of Ontarians, the handpicked head of Ford’s vaccine distribution task force is no longer running the show. Former chief of defence staff Rick Hillier has reportedly finished his work. Yet only seven of the province’s 34 public health units are currently coordinating the administering of doses. The rest are scheduled to come online over the next week. The province is blaming vaccine supply issues for that.

There have been plenty of promises and announcements from the Ford government to create the impression of a strategy to fight the coronavirus. But it’s not clear at this point that the premier understands the science (or believes it).

On Thursday, at an April Fools’ Day press conference to announce another four-week “province-wide emergency brake shutdown” to beat back a third wave, the premier said the government needed “more runway” for the vaccine rollout to take hold. Schools, though, would remain open, despite the fact they are growing centres for more contagious and deadly variants of the virus.

Ford fingered the reopening of patios for the latest surge in the virus “from personal experience driving around.” That would be the same reopening of patios approved by his government only weeks ago. It wasn’t meant as a joke – hospital administrators have been warning of the coming variants literally for weeks. But Ford and his chief medical officer of health, David Williams, ended up turning the proceedings into a farce resembling Laurel and Hardy anyway to dance around questions from reporters on why the province wasn’t going into full lockdown.

Toronto Councillor Josh Matlow summed up the feelings of many. “We need a new premier. We need a new Chief Medical Officer of Health,” he posted on Twitter. Even Ford friendlies in the media seem to agree. Ford’s only answer to successive waves of the virus has been lockdowns (or mockdowns) of one-degree or another.

There has been ample time for Ford to undo his mistakes. But a year after the first wave, it’s been one missed opportunity after another. The vaccine rollout is shaping up to be yet another. Ford has now turned the fight to defeat the virus into a race against time. It’s a dangerous game we’re bound to lose. As younger people between the ages of 20 and 39 become the epicentre of COVID’s spread, another shift will be required to target the virus. At Tuesday’s technical briefing, there was little in the way of details from provincial officials on what steps are being considered to deal with that eventuality.

City of Toronto officials are recognizing that action has to be taken now, even if Ford doesn’t. Late Tuesday, the city’s medical officer of health invoked Section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act to order schools closed. Niagara and Peel have followed suit. Word came shortly after that that the province was considering another u-turn of its own and planning to turn its “emergency brake shutdown” of last week into a stay-at-home order. It doesn’t inspire confidence that the province knows what it’s doing.


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