Ontario family docs limited to pilot call for more involvement in vaccine effort

·4 min read

TORONTO — Ontario family doctors called Tuesday be more involved in the province's COVID-19 vaccination effort but the government said their participation will be limited to a supply-dependent pilot project for now.

The Ontario College of Family Physicians said primary-care doctors could boost overall participation in the province's immunization program to nearly 90 per cent.

In making its case, the group said it had conducted a survey that found 60 per cent of vaccine-hesitant respondents were more likely to get immunized if a family doctor endorsed and administered their shot.

"With vaccine supply increasing, and in the public interest, it is imperative that we have options for all Ontarians to be vaccinated, including with the support of family doctors and their use of AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines," Dr. Liz Muggah, president of the group, said in a statement.

Some family physicians in six regions are currently offering Oxford-AstraZeneca shots to patients aged 60 and older as part of a pilot project. As of Tuesday, the government said those doctors had used about half of the 29,000 doses they had been sent.

The program is currently operating in Toronto, Peel Region, Hamilton, Guelph, Peterborough and Simcoe-Muskoka, with doctors calling eligible patients directly to schedule appointments.

Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said that program will expand, but she couldn't specify to where or when because the government doesn't yet know when more doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine will arrive.

Jones didn't rule out eventually having family doctors administer the Moderna vaccine as well, but said the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot was best suited for primary care physicians for now.

"It is frankly a little easier vaccine to be able to move around, to store, so that is why we have put it with the primary care practitioners," she said. "As we see supplies increase, then those conversations can continue, but right now it is AstraZeneca."

The U.S. is expected to send 1.5 million Oxford-AstraZeneca shots to Canada before the end of the month.

Opposition politicians criticized the government for failing to fully involve family doctors in the vaccination effort.

"They've been left on the on the sidelines and I think that was a miscalculation by the government," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

Liberal health critic John Fraser said the government shouldn't still be running pilot projects at this point .

"You need a plan and you need to execute it," he said.

At least one Ontario health unit said Tuesday that it will have some family doctors administer the Moderna vaccine as part of a local pilot project. Four primary care groups in Lambton Public Health will receive a total of 2,600 doses that will go to patients with high-risk chronic health conditions.

Ontario's supply of the Moderna vaccine is expected to increase in the coming weeks. The province says 97,000 doses are coming this week, and between 220,000 and more than 440,000 weekly doses are expected over the next three weeks.

Jones said some of the incoming Moderna supply will go to pharmacies in the Toronto, Kingston and Windsor regions that are currently offering the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines to people 60 and older.

The pharmacies in that pilot project have used more than 70 per cent of the 165,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca doses they received earlier in the month, the government said Tuesday.

Jones said the province still plans to expand the pharmacy project, although the government has not yet specified which other regions it will grow to.

The government also reminded residents Tuesday not to show up for vaccination appointments far ahead of schedule.

Lineups at some mass vaccination sites were reported in Toronto as the city vaccinates residents aged 75 and older. Local officials have urged those with appointments to show up only shortly before their time slot, a call Jones repeated.

"Look, people are excited to get the vaccine, they want to have that first shot and I can't blame them," she said. "We have regularly asked people not to arrive two or three hours early for your vaccine."

Ontario reported 1,546 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday and nine more deaths from the virus. The government also said Tuesday that 99 per cent of long-term care residents had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2021.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press