Ontario government to have 34 different COVID-19 vaccination plans
TORONTO -- Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccination plan is being splintered off into 34 different sets of delivery models as the province tasks each local public health unit with creating their own strategy for administering the vaccine to residents of their regions.
The province’s Progressive Conservative government said each local medical officer of health has already submitted a plan for how they will inoculate priority groups in the weeks and months ahead, which are all being characterized by the government as being “unique.”
“The plans vary, as you can imagine, because the rollout in Toronto will be very different from the rollout in North Bay, Thunder Bay and so on,” Health Minster Christine Elliott told MPPs during Question Period.
“So, it’s up to the local medical officers of health to fashion a plan, whether it’s going to be mass vaccination clinics, whether it’s going to be through pharmacies or whether it’s going to be through physicians’ offices.”
The province is receiving more than 230,000 doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine this week, allowing the government to thaw out it’s inoculation strategy, weeks after vaccine shortages put the plans on ice.
The variety of vaccination plans, however, has already led to confusion, with critics of the Doug Ford government pointing out that family physicians were unaware of their involvement in vaccine distribution until they heard a public announcement last week.
“The premier announced that they would be involved, which was complete news to them,” said France Gelinas of the NDP. “Important health care partners—we’re talking about Ontario’s doctors here—are scrambling to figure out what is going on.”
Even Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, whose Dufferin-Caledon riding encompasses two public health units, said the strategy to reach out to elderly members of the community varies between the two units.
“I can tell you that in the north half [of the riding], family physicians are reaching out to over 80 patients and saying, 'you're next in line, be ready to get vaccinated,'” Jones told reporters at Queen’s Park on Monday.
Other public health units, Jones emphasized, have chosen to take a more passive approach to vaccinations.
“Public health units have set up mass vaccination sites and they will have an opportunity for either individuals to call those public health units or proactively reach out -- whether it's through online information or advertising -- saying now we're ready and we would like you to fill out your application and you can get in line to get vaccinated.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said while public health units may have a more intimate understanding of the community they oversee, it’s ultimately up to the province to put the provincial resources in place to ensure the strategy is a success.
“If a public health unit needs something or is shy of resources that they need … that they can fall back on the government and the government has a plan on how to support those public health units. I don't hear that,” Horwath said.
Ontario’s Liberals expressed concerns about local medical health officials creating plans based on incomplete picture, pointing to the recently updated priorities to vaccinate the most elderly Ontarians living in the community.
“What have they been doing since December? They haven't been making the decisions they needed to make to inform public health units, these things aren't easy,” said Liberal MPP John Fraser.
Elliott insisted that retired General Rick Hillier, who oversees the province’s vaccination distribution taskforce, has been in “frequent communication” with all local medical health officers as they develop their strategies.