Health minister says Ontario not ready to release more detailed vaccine timeline

·3 min read

TORONTO — Ontario is not ready to release a detailed plan for its rollout of COVID-19 vaccines because its supply of the shots has been unreliable, the province's health minister said Tuesday.

Christine Elliott said the province knows which age groups it wants to prioritize but delayed deliveries and unclear levels of future supply mean its tentative immunization schedule has been changing.

"There's just so many variables right now," Elliott said.

"We don't want to put something out that we may not be able to achieve because we may not have the vaccines."

The province expects to receive approximately 157,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Wednesday, but it's not immediately clear what shipment levels will look like in the coming weeks, Elliott said.

"We are really dependent on what's happening with (Pfizer's) factory production facility in Belgium and then the same thing with Moderna," she said.

The potential federal approval of a third vaccine - the shot manufactured by AstraZeneca - could also change the province's targets, she noted.

The province has been criticized for not issuing a detailed timeline and further specifics for its vaccine rollout.

Ontario has been focusing its vaccination efforts recently on the highest-priority groups, including long-term care residents, nursing home staff and certain health-care workers.

Over the weekend, it updated to its priority list to identify adults aged 80 and older, seniors in congregate care and Indigenous adults as those next in line for a shot when doses were available.

The province has also said it is creating an online booking system to help expand its vaccine rollout in the coming weeks.

Ontario had laid out the broad strokes of its vaccination plan last month but it was released just before the federal government announced that vaccine deliveries from both Pfizer and Moderna would be delayed.

In its plan at the time, Ontario said it was taking a three-phase approach to its rollout.

During the first phase, from January to March, the province prioritized those in long-term care, high-risk retirement home residents, health-care workers, and people who live in congregate care settings. Adults who receive chronic home care, and all Indigenous adults were also included.

The initial plan was also expected to begin to provide essential workers like first responders, teachers, construction workers and food industry workers with the shot in the first phase.

During the second phase -- previously planned for April to June before supply issues emerged -- Ontario was to target adults 80 years and older, and then residents aged 65 to 75 through primary care clinics and pharmacies.

The second phase also included mass vaccinations sites, led by local health units, for residents aged 16-60, and mobile sites for high risk groups.

The rollout would then shift into a third phase -- previously planned from August to December -- when all other remaining residents would be able to get the shot.

All those plans were disrupted when shipping delays forced the province to revise its rollout.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath criticized Elliott on Tuesday for not being able to provide an update to the timelines, even if the government had to revise them later.

"That's not an adequate excuse," she said. "It just feels like with this vaccine issue, the government's chasing things, that they're not putting clear plans out in advance."

Liberal health critic John Fraser said the province's health units will need time to plan and providing timelines will be important.

"The problem is, if they don't know soon enough, it becomes harder for them to execute," he said.

As of Tuesday, a total of 467,626 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in Ontario.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 16, 2021.

The Canadian Press