The province's vaccination plan will see 1.2 million high-risk people immunized in the first quarter of 2021
Ontario will distribute COVID-19 vaccines in three phases, with long-term care home residents and staff in hotspots among the first to receive doses.
On December 7, Premier Doug Ford announced who will receive early vaccine doses in the first phase of the rollout in early 2021.
“Our first shipments of a very small number of doses could arrive as early as next week,” Ford said during a Queen’s Park news conference. “But we’re still very far – and I gotta repeat that – very far from having the millions of vaccines we need for mass immunization.”
Retired general Rick Hillier, head of Ontario’s newly formed COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force, said the province is expecting to receive 2.4 million doses of the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in the first quarter of the year, but could not give exact dates.
“That allows us to vaccinate 1.2 million people in Ontario based on those who are eligible,” he said. “Phase one will take us two to three months depending on the arrival of those vaccines. We won’t be able to do everyone each day or on the first day, so people are going to have to be patient that their turn will come.”
The first groups to be immunized in Ontario include:
The government will prioritize people in regions that are in the red and lockdown zones of the COVID-19 response framework.
Toronto and Peel Region are in a temporary lockdown and York Region, Halton Region, Durham Region, Hamilton, Windsor-Essex and Waterloo are in the red zone.
In phases one and two, Hillier said vaccinations will take place at special sites.
He added that the distribution plan for the Pfizer vaccine will be shaped by the need to transport and store doses at -70 degrees Celsius.
If the government is unable to get vaccines into long-term care and retirement homes, workers in homes who can visit the vaccination sites will be immunized first.
The vaccines are expected to be available for non-pregnant adults over the age of 18 based on early clinical trial results.
“As further information becomes available from clinical trials and from Health Canada approvals, the groups for which the vaccines are authorized for use could change,” the government said.
Hillier said the bulk of the vaccines – including the Pfizer, Moderna and other vaccines – will arrive in phase two, which should take six to nine months and start around early April.
He called phase three “the steady state” – when the distribution operation starts to resemble to flu immunization programs, with people going to places like pharmacies to get vaccinated.
Canada has negotiated a deal to receive up to 76 million doses of the vaccine.
Pfizer submitted the vaccine to Health Canada for regulatory approval on October 9 and the results are expected within days, government officials have said.
The vaccines will be delivered to 14 sites and distributed on a per capita basis, which means provinces will receive doses proportionate to their populations.
Hillier said he’s confident Ontario will have enough ultra-low temperature freezers to store the Pfizer vaccines. He noted that the vaccines come in small packages of 5,000 doses each so it does not require a lot of storage space. The packages are “mini freezers,” he added, that can be used for 15-20 days before they need to be replenished with dry ice.
Asked if the COVID-19 vaccine would be optional, Ford said “right now it’s optional.
“I just don’t believe in forcing people to take this,” he said. “What I do believe in is encouraging everyone possible out there to get a vaccination shot. It’s going to protect all of us but it’s also going to get the economy moving forward. It’s going to protect our health-care system. It’s going to protect our education system.”