More than 250,000 doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine coming to Ontario

Provincial officials are holding a news conference at noon to provide an update on Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout. You can watch it live in this story.

Ontario expects to receive more than 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine next week, officials said Wednesday, one day after the province put a pause on administering the vaccine.

The news comes as many Ontarians who received a first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine are wondering what comes next.

During a briefing for media this morning, officials said that the 254,500 doses will likely be used for second shots, but there is still uncertainty about what that process might look like.

Officials said they are still finalizing a plan and are actively considering whether various vaccines can be mixed safely and effectively. Data from the United Kingdom, where health authorities have been mixing vaccines for months, will help guide the strategy, officials said.

You can read the full briefing presentation at the bottom of this story.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, announced yesterday that the province was pressing pause on giving out further doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The decision was made in part due to further cases of rare but potentially blood clots linked to the vaccine.

Williams said there have been eight such cases in Ontario, some as recently as this week. The risk of a blood clot from a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine is now estimated to be roughly one in 55,000. The risk for a second shot is about one in 1,000,000.

At a news conference Wednesday, Health Minister Christine Elliott said that people who got the AstraZeneca vaccine “did the right thing” to protect their loved ones and the community.

“This decision by the chief medical officer of health was made out of an abundance of caution,” Elliott said.

There are about 50,000 doses of the vaccine currently left in the province. They are set to expire at the end of May or in early June, officials said this morning. 

Second shots are on the minds of more than just those who got the AstraZeneva vaccine. Officials offered more details on the province’s plans to get second doses to some priority groups.

They expect that about 200,000 health-care workers employed in the highest-risk settings, such those staffing intensive care units and long-term care homes, will be able to begin appointments for a second dose this week.

Because many of them got their first shots before the provincial booking system was in place, the province plans to offer those health-care workers second appointments at the same location as their first. 

The same will be offered to Ontarians who got an initial shot through a workplace or pop-up clinic, officials said. 

Ontario is on track to meet its target of getting a first dose to 65 per cent of adults by the end of the month, and there is optimism it could be surpassed, officials added.

They expect that by the week of May 24, some 2,490 pharmacies provincewide will be offering the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. There should eventually be about 280,000 doses of vaccines moving through the pharmacy network each week, officials said.

And if supply permits, the province is considering exempting more groups from the four-month interval between shots.

The officials noted that more than 53 per cent of adults in the province’s 114 hot spots have now had one dose of a vaccine, compared to just under 47 per cent of those who live in other postal codes.

Meanwhile, officials said the province is planning to begin offering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to adolescents aged 12 through 17 in June. 

The provincial government is still working with public health units and schools boards to nail down details of the rollout for students.

Public health units collectively administered 140,785 doses of COVID vaccines yesterday. More than 50 per cent of Ontarians aged 18 and older have received at least one dose.

A critical care nurse tends to a patient in the ICU at Scarborough Health Network’s Centenary Hospital last month. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

ICU admissions fall

Ontario reported 2,320 more cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, while the number of patients with the illness requiring critical care dropped below 800 for the first time in three weeks. 

It is the third straight day in the province that the total case count has been lower than 3,000. 

The seven-day average of daily cases fell to 2,826, its lowest point since April 5. 

As of Tuesday, there were 776 patients with COVID-related illnesses in intensive care units, according to the Ministry of Health. Of those, 559, or about 72 per cent, needed a ventilator to breathe.

Data from Critical Care Services Ontario (CCSO), a government agency that compiles an internal report for hospitals and health organizations, shows that new admissions to ICUs per day have been trending downward for several weeks. 

During a news conference this week, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said that, along with daily case counts under 1,000, the province would like to see fewer than 150 COVID patients in ICUs before significantly easing public health restrictions.

The health ministry also reported the deaths of 32 more people with COVID-19, pushing the official toll to 8,374.

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