TORONTO -- Ontario’s Minister of Long Term Care is advocating to have nursing home residents and staff a top priority to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as one becomes available.

“It’s just so important that we keep finding new tools and obviously a vaccine or medication that would help against COVID-19 would be very much appreciated and well received,” said Marilee Fullerton on Tuesday. “I’m advocating that our long-term care home residents receive the vaccine in a timely way. I would want them to be a priority given the devastating effect of one case getting into a home.”

Fullerton says the decision will ultimately be up to the province’s table of experts and distribution task force headed by retired General Rick Hillier.

“It’s about the availability, first of all, and secondly it’s about the experts who are advising us – there’s many people who have a lens on this to understand how this would be potentially rolled out, understanding that we’re not going to have millions of doses and so where can we use that vaccine to the maximum benefit of Ontarians,” Fullerton said.

The province reported 109 active outbreaks at its 626 long-term care homes on Tuesday.

The Ontario government has said it will be ready by Dec. 31 to roll out the vaccine once the candidates are approved by Health Canada. Ontario’s Health Minister Christine Elliott said Tuesday the most vulnerable will be among the first to immunized.

Advocates say long-term care residents and frontline staff should be a top priority.

“We know that in long-term care homes that vaccines work,” said Donna Duncan, CEO of the Ontario Long Term Care Association. “Days matter in our homes and we know when an outbreak happens it can escalate really quickly.

The association reached out to the province’s distribution task force immediately after Friday‘s announcement it would be headed by retired General Rick Hillier.

“What we asked for was to prioritize long-term care homes and we are offering support for the distribution process. We want to make sure that we use the infrastructure that we use for other vaccines and that we move quickly,” Duncan said.

But with rollout of the vaccine likely to happen in early 2021 and the availability still unknown, advocates say the focus should remain on currently keeping the virus out of long-term care homes.

“Our priority all along has been the front line health care workers and residents and staff,” said CEO of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario Dr. Doris Grinspun, who adds that the vaccine rollout next year will come too little, too late.

“Please no easing of the lockdown unless we have the capacity to test and to contact trace, otherwise we will continue to see the causalities.”