TORONTO — The Ontario government says that it will be up to each local public health unit to determine how people over the age of 80 will be notified of their turn to get the COVID-19 vaccine, adding that some options discussed include going through a family physician’s office or a local advertising campaign.
Over the weekend, the province said in a memo sent out to local medical officers of health and hospital CEOs that adults over the age of 80 will now be included in Phase 1 of the vaccine distribution plan. This demographic, who was originally placed in Phase 2 of the vaccination plan, will receive their shot after the first four priority groups have received a dose.
The priority groups include residents, staff and essential caregivers in long-term care homes, First Nations elder care homes and retirement homes; alternative level of care patients in hospitals who are also admitted at one of the aforementioned facilities; “highest” and “very high” priority health-care workers; and Indigenous adults in northern remote and higher risk communities.
Provincial health officials say people over the age of 80 could start receiving their vaccine as early as this month, but that most will likely start receiving their shots in March.
However, speaking on background at a technical briefing, officials said the province is still working with local pubic health units to determine how residents outside of congregate settings or workplaces will be notified that they should get a vaccine.
Some of the options being considered, officials said, include local advertising campaigns or utilizing personal physicians, who could contact their patients.
Retired Gen. Rick Hillier told reporters Friday afternoon that he knows seniors are waiting to find out more information about how they can get the vaccine.
“We can’t tell you exactly that yet,” he said. “But we will be able to do that very soon.”
All 34 public health units in Ontario have developed mass immunization clinics within their region, the province said, and work is underway to plan for vaccinations in pharmacies and primary care offices.
The province is developing an online booking system to help in pre-registering vaccinations, but says it will likely not be ready in time for Phase 1 use.
The system was tested at Toronto’s Metro Convention Centre vaccination clinic, which was expected to run for at least six weeks in order to gather data about how best to host vaccination drives in larger settings. However, the clinic had to be closed after just two days due to a vaccine shortage across Canada.
Officials said Friday that they do believe they gathered enough data to go forward with the online booking system.
More details on the system and the supplementary call-in centre for residents who are unable to use the online portal, or who may not feel comfortable doing so, are expected in the next few weeks.
Ontario still on track to transition to Phase 2 by April, officials say
According to a timeline presented at the briefing, Ontario remains on track to transitioning to Phase 2 of its COVID-19 vaccination plan by April, despite supply shortages.
“We’ve not wasted our time while we’ve been in with a minimal number of vaccines to use,” Hillier said. “And what we’ve been doing is preparing for when more arrive, which started a day and a half ago, and preparing for when larger numbers arrive in phase two or somewhere around the first of April and onwards.”
The government expects to receive about 186,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine next week and then a little more than 173,000 doses the following two weeks.
This number is based on a sixth dose extraction of the vaccine using a one millimetre “low dead-volume” syringe.
The province also said it would be getting about 47,000 doses from Moderna next week, which is a lower number than they were expecting. However, officials say they should get more doses in March to make up for the delay.
Officials also said that instead of getting about five million doses of the vaccine every month between April and June, Ontario will now get about 2.5 million.
Under Phase 2 of the province’s vaccine distribution plan, other front-line workers, at risk populations, individuals living with high-risk chronic conditions and those living and working in high-risk congregate settings will be able to get a shot. This will also include members of the general population between the ages of 60 and 70.
Officials say that they will decrease the age eligibility marker by five years throughout Phase 2.
Between August and December, the general population will be able to get the vaccine.
To date, 518,834 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Ontario. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine require a second dose in order to be considered immunized. As of Friday, 217,715 people in Ontario have received both doses of the vaccine.
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