Ornge head Homer Tien tapped to replace Hillier as head of Ontario vaccine drive

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TORONTO — The head of Ontario's air ambulance service has been tapped to lead the province's vaccine rollout, the government announced on Sunday.

Dr. Homer Tien replaces retired general Rick Hillier as operational lead of Ontario's COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force, a spokesman for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said in an email.

"Dr. Tien has been part of the Task Force since it was established and has worked closely with the province on leading Operation Remote Immunity," Stephen Warner said.

That operation helped deliver vaccines to 31 remote fly-in First Nations in northern Ontario, as well as Moosonee.

Tien is a trauma surgeon and president and of Ornge, a post he's held since January 2020.

He's set to oversee the rollout as it enters its second phase, vaccinating front-line workers and people with underlying health conditions.

The province announced Hillier's departure from the role last month, explaining he declined a request to stay on past the March 31 expiry date of his contract to kickstart the mass immunization drive.

Hillier, who previously served as the chief of defence staff of the Canadian Forces for three years, was appointed to lead the vaccine rollout in November.

Ford said at the time that the deployment of vaccines would require an expert in logistics, making Hillier's appointment important.

A month later, Ontario was criticized for pausing its vaccine rollout over the Christmas holidays, a move Hillier was forced to defend. He conceded that "in hindsight, it was the wrong decision."

Criticism about distribution pace and communication continued throughout Hillier's tenure, though he also oversaw the launch of the provincial vaccine booking portal. Pilot projects allowing select pharmacists and primary-care providers to begin administering the coveted shots also got underway on his watch.

The vaccination pace has picked up in recent weeks, with the province saying it's administering roughly 150,000 shots a day.

Warner said more than two million vaccine doses have been administered so far in the province.

Ornge said Tien will stay on as the ambulance service's president as he takes on his new role.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 4, 2021.

The Canadian Press