'A lot on our plate': Local health officials say they are ready for COVID-19 vaccine challenge
TORONTO -- Ontario’s local medical officers of health are expressing confidence in their ability to carry out a mass COVID-19 immunization campaign in the weeks ahead, despite the enormous challenges of responding to the global pandemic.
The provincial government recently revealed that the responsibility to plan and administer the vaccine would largely fall on the shoulders of 34 public health units (PHUs), while the Ontario government takes on the distribution and prioritization duties.
Dr. Charles Gardner, who serves as the vice-chair of the Council of Ontario Medical Officers of Health, said there was no doubt that PHUs would ultimately be responsible for delivering the vaccine, since their mandates include the yearly influenza immunization campaign.
“It has been our mandate to provide immunization and to organize for large scale immunization responses to communicable disease outbreaks, including the H1N1 influenza pandemic 11 years ago,” Dr. Gardner told CTV News Toronto “It actually be entirely in keeping that we would play this role.”
The government said all public health units have submitted “unique” plans to the provincial government for approval, leading to concerns about an inconsistent approach to vaccine delivery in Ontario.
Gardner, who is also the medical officer of health for Simcoe-Muskoka, suggested each PHU would need to have a different approach to best suit the population, age rages and geography of the region. Medical officers of health, he said, created a vaccination playbook, based on prior immunization campaigns, for the provincial government to use as a template for all PHUs.
“It really can't be done from a distance, you really have to know what your local needs are, where your vulnerable populations are, and where the opportunities lie for you to be able to provide immunization.”
Gardner emphasized, however, that PHUs already have “a lot on our plate” as they continue to respond to the pandemic, and that administering two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine makes the situation “more complicated.”
“We do have to do all the case and contact management, the outbreak response and education and enforcement about the restrictions for businesses and for the public. And then, in addition to all of that, there is this campaign to provide immunization to our community.”
In order to have sufficient resources to manage both the pandemic response and the vaccine rollout simultaneously, Gardner says PHUs will have to rely on hospitals for additional health-care resources, municipalities for large-scale venues, and community pharmacies for regional delivery.
Funding for the additional resources, Gardner says, would come from provincial coffers.
“That would be true for the costs of staff, it would be true for other related costs, if we have to rent space, that that too would come through financing from the province.”
Gardner said the province is keeping track of the progress using a digital data management system and will largely be responsible for the board parameters of the vaccine distribution as well as accountability of the process – a role he feels comfortable with.
“They're doing that kind of oversight of what we're doing, and then handing over to us the task of actually figuring out how it's going to happen on the ground.”