Ontario government confirms COVID-19 vaccines being held back to guarantee supply
TORONTO -- Public health units in Ontario are holding onto doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to guarantee adequate supply, according to the provincial government, which is leading to a lower number of vaccinations on weekends.
Ontario’s vaccination rates have seen a consistent drop on Saturdays and Sundays during the month of March, falling to 31,335 doses administered last Sunday – the lowest in 14 days.
Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, whose office has been facilitating the distribution of the vaccine, suggested weekend vaccinations are limited as a result of “inventory management.”
“Public health units, particularly the ones hosting the mass vaccination sites had to be a little more careful, over Saturday and Sunday, to make sure that they had sufficient supplies [for the next week], if there was a limitation that happened at the federal government,” Jones told reporters at Queen’s Park.
While the health minister recently told the provincial legislature that there “no vaccines are sitting in freezers anywhere,” Jones acknowledged that doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are indeed on ice waiting to be administered.
“[Public health units] wanted one or two days’ worth of supply in the freezer, which makes perfect sense when you think of starting a vaccine mass vaccination clinic, only to find out that halfway through the day, you've exhausted your supply,” Jones said.
Premier Doug Ford says local health officials may be holding onto as much as “one, two, maybe three days” of doses to prevent supply chain disruptions, and to avoid cancelling appointments.
Ford said “nothing would be worse” than ramping up a mass vaccination program only to encounter delivery hiccups similar to the January drought in vaccines which forced some clinics to shut down days after opening.
“The challenge is re-booking tens of thousands of appointments,” Ford said. “I wish we could be pumping it up to 100-150,000 a day and not worry about the supply coming in.”
While Ford expressed concerns over supply, Ontario is anticipating nearly one-million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines this week, giving the City of Toronto confidence to book 133,000 appointments over the coming weeks.
Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg, who leads the city’s emergency response to the pandemic, noted a sense of “optimism” among provincial officials over the scheduled deliveries of the vaccine.
Ontario has, so far, received 1.7 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and has administered more than 1.5 million, leaving 227,000 doses unused.