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More than 500K Ontarians have now received the COVID vaccine, with 217K fully vaccinated

Provincial officials also say more vaccines than expected should show up next month

More than 518,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Ontario as of yesterday, and the province has reached its goal of providing a first dose offer to residents of all long-term care homes (LTCH) and high-risk retirement homes.

There are now 217,000 people in the province who are fully vaccinated, the Ministry of Health’s vaccine distribution task force told reporters listening in on a briefing Friday.

“Ontario continues to be ready to administer doses – and expand the number of locations administering vaccines – as soon as we receive them from the federal government,” said Ministry of Health representatives. 

So who’s next in terms of receiving vaccines?

Within the updated framework on phased prioritization, the Ministry of Health will continue to offer the vaccines to long-term care and high-risk retirement home residents (some were initially too ill to receive the vaccine, had a condition that might prevent them from having the vaccine, or did not initially consent when it was made available to them). 

Staff and essential caregivers in these care homes and First Nations elder care homes are also being prioritized. 

Ministry of Health officials said they are also pleased with the results of Operation Remote Immunity, the operation led by Ornge to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine to all adults (18 and older) in the 31 fly-in First Nation communities and Moosonee in Northern Ontario. 

So far, the ministry says 12 of the fly-in communities have been offered the first dose and the operation aims to complete all first and second doses to the 31 communities and Moosonee by the end of April 2021. 

Also detailed was the Feb. 9 Health Canada announcement updating the number of doses per vial for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to six full doses per vial, rather than five, obtained using a specialized “low-dead volume, or low-space volume” needle to extract the additional dose, so while the number of “trays” that hold the vials will remain the same, the number of doses per vial is increased, and therefore, so is the number of people who can be vaccinated. 

Additionally, while Ontario received fewer than expected doses from Moderna this month, officials say the province will receive a higher number of doses than expected in March: 47,400. 

The immediate priorities for first dose vaccinations continue to be: those who did not receive the vaccine from the previous phase; alternate level of care patients who have confirmed admission to a long-term care home, retirement home or other congregate care home for seniors; highest priority health-care workers, followed by “very high priority” health-care workers (more information on these classifications can be found here.)

This “immediate priorities” list also includes Indigenous adults in northern remote and higher risk communities.

Within the next phase of priority first-dose vaccinations, once it has been made available to the remainder of the phase one populations, there is a new group – those 80 years of age and older. 

As it stands, those in this community who are 80 years and older will be contacted by representatives of Public Health Sudbury and District to book their vaccination – once this stage is reached. 

This second phase of vaccinations will also include: 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, and in accordance with the Ministry of Health’s guidance on Health Care Worker Prioritization; All Indigenous adults; and adult recipients of chronic home care.

As a part of the planning for the administering of the vaccine, there are several provisions laid out, which include having a plan in place for those who are no-shows or must cancel their vaccine appointment time that will allow another person equal to the cancelled patient on the priority list to be slotted in. 

As well, the ministry is looking to mass immunization clinics, and mobile vaccination teams: to date, 2,500 individuals have enlisted to support the vaccine distribution by registering in the portal, as encouraged by the ministry. 

And though the initial bookings for appointments, especially in this next phase, will be done by phone, the province is developing an online booking system and customer service desk to help with appointments and challenges. 

The continued phases of the vaccination distribution plan will focus on the increasing the capacity to vaccinate – Ontario currently has the ability to vaccinate 40,000 people per day but does not reach that level – supporting outreach and awareness among priority groups and readying distribution channels, as well as developing new plans pending the approval of the Astra Zeneca vaccine, currently being evaluated by Health Canada.