Premier Doug Ford expressed frustration at the news that Canada will not receive any new doses of the Pfizer vaccine next week, though the general overseeing Ontario's vaccine rollout plan remains hopeful the distribution delay won't impede plans to immunize the general population by early August.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Ford called the news that Canada will receive no new Pfizer vaccines next week "troubling" and "a massive concern."
"Until vaccines are more widely available, please stay home, stay safe and save lives," he said.
The news comes as the province recorded another 1,913 cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, with officials cautioning that Toronto Public Health — which consistently logs the most new infections each day — is "likely underreporting" its number of cases.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said the artificially low total of 550 new cases reported by the city was due to a "technical issue," but did not provide any further details.
For reference, over the three previous days, Toronto Public Health logged 815, 1035 and 903 cases, respectively.
Other public health units that saw double- or triple-digit increases were:
Peel Region: 346
York Region: 235
Durham Region: 82
Waterloo Region: 79
Halton Region: 71
Niagara Region: 52
Simcoe Muskoka: 48
Eastern Ontario: 14
(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health's COVID-19 dashboard or in its Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, because local units report figures at different times.)
Over 200,000 Ontarians vaccinated so far
At a technical briefing for media Tuesday morning, members of the COVID-19 vaccination distribution task force offered a rough breakdown of which groups received a first dose of vaccine:
About 83,000 long-term care residents, staff and caregivers.
About 25,000 retirement home residents, staff and caregivers.
More than 99,000 health-care workers in other sectors.
With the more than 200,000 vaccines administered, Ontario has completed the first round of immunization at all long-term care homes in Toronto, Peel, York and Windsor-Essex — the four regions with the highest transmission rates of the virus. The first round of immunizations has also been administered at all long-term care homes in Ottawa, Durham and Simcoe-Muskoka.
Still, Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton cautioned, "The rise of community spread during the second wave is posing a serious threat to our long-term care homes."
The province aims to finish vaccinating those at all remaining long-term care homes by Feb. 15.
At Tuesday's technical briefing, members of the COVID-19 vaccination distribution task force also addressed how the province is responding to Pfizer's announcement last week that it was slowing down production of its vaccine, resulting in delivery delays for Canada.
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The impact in Ontario will vary week to week, officials said, with an 80 per cent reduction in the number of doses that were originally expected the week of Jan. 25; 55 per cent the week of Feb. 1; and 45 per cent the week of Feb. 8.
In turn, the province will reallocate its available doses of the Moderna vaccine to more regions, while also extending the interval between doses of the Pfizer vaccine in some situations to ensure that everyone who has had a first shot will have access to their second.
Residents and staff at long-term care and high-risk retirement homes who have received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine will receive a second dose in 21 to 27 days, the province says. All others who receive the Pfizer vaccine will receive their second dose between 21 and 42 days after the first.
For those who receive the Moderna vaccine, the 28-day schedule will remain in place.
As for whether the province still expects to immunize the general population of Ontario by late July or early August, General Rick Hillier said that will come down to whether there are any further hiccups with vaccine availability, but that he remains optimistic.
Toronto to halt operations at mass vaccination clinic
Following the announcement of the delay, the province asked the City of Toronto late Tuesday to immediately stop operating a "proof-of-concept" mass vaccination clinic at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
The clinic, which began operating only on Monday, had aimed to vaccinate 250 people per day, but the city noted that was entirely dependent upon vaccine supply.
People scheduled to receive the shot at the clinic over the next three days have had those appointments cancelled, Toronto Public Health said in a statement.
"The City's Immunization Task Force is continuing to plan for city-wide immunization clinic roll-out and will continue to work with the province to determine next steps once vaccine supply is re-established," the city said.
Just over 34,000 new tests processed
Meanwhile, Ontario's network of labs processed just 34,531 test samples for the novel coronavirus and reported a test positivity rate of 6.8 per cent. Testing levels often fall over weekends, but there is capacity in the system for more than 70,000 tests daily.
The seven-day average of new daily cases fell to 2,893, the lowest it has been since Jan. 4 this year.
For the seventh time in eight days, the numbers of cases reported resolved outpaced new infections. There are currently about 27,615 confirmed, active cases of COVID-19 provincewide.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health said there were 1,626 patients in hospitals with COVID-19. Of those, 400 were being treated in intensive care, the most at any point during the pandemic, and 292 required a ventilator to breathe.
Notably, a daily report generated by Critical Care Services Ontario and shared internally with hospitals puts the current number of ICU patients with COVID-19 at 418, with 303 still on ventilators.
Public health units also recorded 46 additional deaths of people with the illness, bringing the official toll to 5,479.
Twenty-nine of the further deaths were residents of long-term care. A total of 254, or just over 40 per cent, of long-term care facilities in Ontario were dealing with an outbreak of COVID-19.
The province said it administered another 14346 doses of COVID-19 vaccines yesterday, and that 224,134 people have been given a first dose. A total of 25,609 people in Ontario have gotten both shots.