By Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller
With our students back in school and as we start to carefully and cautiously reopen the economy, I have started getting more and more questions about the vaccine rollout and when people might be able to get vaccinated.
The vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel but as we’ve all seen it seems to be a very long tunnel— Canada has faced some challenges getting vaccines.
The federal government is responsible for approving vaccines, providing scientific guidance on how vaccines can be handled and administered, ordering vaccines, and working with manufacturers to ensure Canada receives enough doses.
Ontario is responsible for prioritizing which groups of citizens will be vaccinated first, distributing the vaccines and supplies received from the Federal government, and tracking the vaccine administration.
Local Health Units are responsible for receiving vaccine shipments from the province, safely storing the doses, creating a plan for the local rollout, and distributing and administering the vaccine based on the Province’s priorities.
The past two months have been an emotional rollercoaster for those of us looking forward to the vaccine. First in December we went up with the announcement of the approvals and as we saw the first vaccines administered.
But that good news was tempered by restrictions on moving the Pfizer vaccine. Then in January Health Canada released protocols for moving the Pfizer vaccine safely which allowed Ontario to take the vaccine to long-term care facilities to vaccinate residents.
In mid-January we learned that there would be delays in receiving the Pfizer vaccine. Then at the end of January we learned that Moderna shipments would be delayed.
Ontario first announced our vaccine plan in December. Due to the unexpected reductions in supply of vaccines we adjusted the plan to ensure the most vulnerable, those in long-term care, received the vaccine as quickly as possible and that second doses were available for these individuals.
Now, we have been told the Pfizer shipments are back on schedule. Given the expected increase in Ontario’s vaccine supply the next target groups within the Phase 1 priority populations have been identified. They are:
- Staff, residents, and caregivers in retirement homes and other congregate care settings for seniors (e.g., assisted living).
- Health care workers in the High Priority level including paramedics, in accordance with the Ministry of Health’s guidance on Health Care Worker Prioritization.
- Indigenous adults in remote and high risk communities.
- Adult recipients of chronic home care.
- Adults 80 years of age and older.
Phase 2 will start in March and go until July. During Phase 2 approximately 8.5 million people from the following groups are expected to have access to vaccines:
- Older adults, beginning with those 80 and older and decreasing in five-year increments.
- Residents and staff in high-risk congregate settings (for example, shelters, community living).
- Frontline essential workers, including first responders, teachers and other education staff, and the food processing industry.
- Individuals with high-risk chronic conditions and their caregivers.
- Other populations and communities facing barriers related to the determinants of health across Ontario who are at greater COVID-19 risk.
Our government’s approach to administering the COVID-19 vaccine is based on the expert recommendations of the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force and in alignment with the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.
The task force will use the ethical framework and the best available data to identify other priority populations within this phase, based on available vaccine supply.
As of February 16, Ontario has received 528,675 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and administered 480,377. Ontario currently has the capacity to administer 40,000 doses per day. With our partners we are working to expand that capacity and stand ready to administer more doses as soon as we receive them.
What does all this mean locally?
In Parry Sound-Muskoka, all long-term care residents who were willing to be vaccinated have received at least their first dose of the vaccine and many have also received the second dose. The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is working on vaccinating all residents of retirement homes.
The SMDHU is currently working on their local rollout plan but I can confirm they are looking to establish multiple vaccine clinics including at least one in Muskoka so residents will not be required to travel to Barrie to get vaccinated. As more vaccine is available more sites will be added. These could be at hospitals, pharmacies, primary care settings, in community locations, or mobile clinics.
For more information about the vaccine rollout, please monitor the Ontario vaccine website at covid-19.ontario.ca/covid-19-vaccines-ontario and locally the SMDHU website at simcoemuskokahealth.org/Topics/COVID-19.
It is not mandatory that everyone get vaccinated but I do encourage everyone to do so. If you have questions speak to your doctor or look for reliable scientific information from reputable sources. When I get the opportunity to be vaccinated, I will be rolling up my sleeve to get the shot.
In the meantime, and here comes the broken record, please follow public health advice. Stay home as much as possible; go out only for essential purposes like work, school, and essential errands; gather only with those people in your own household; wear a mask any time you are near people outside your household and unable to maintain a physical distance of at least six feet; and wash your hands frequently.
Photo of MPP Norm Miller is courtesy of his office. Queen’s Park photo “June 2012 Ontario Legislature Toronto” by Priscilla Jordão, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.
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