The Ontario government has released a detailed list of people who will be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine in Phase 2 of the province’s distribution plan, which officials say focuses on age and at-risk groups.
Speaking to reporters on background Friday, officials said the province is still on track to begin Phase 2 of the vaccination plan in April.
About 9 million Ontario residents are expected to receive their first dose of a vaccine in this phase, which is expected to be complete by at least July.
Under Phase 2, the government will begin mass immunization of adults between the ages of 60 and 79 (in declining five-year increments), people in high-risk congregate settings, individuals with high-risk chronic conditions and their caregivers, people who cannot work from home and at-risk populations.
The list of individuals eligible for the vaccine in Phase 2 has expanded since it was first released in mid-January to encompass more at-risk groups and to take COVID-19 hot spots into account. Officials say they hope the adjustments will prevent deaths, hospitalizations and admissions to the intensive care units.
On Friday, officials released a detailed list of who will be eligible for the vaccine in Phase 2 based on each categorization:
Based on health conditions
Vaccinations for individuals based on highest-risk health conditions are expected to begin in April.
Highest risk: Organ transplant recipients, Hematopoietic stem cell transplant recipients, people with neurological diseases in which respiratory function may be compromised, hematological malignancy diagnosed (<1 year), kidney disease
High-risk: Obesity (BM1 >40), other treatments causing immunosuppression such as chemotherapy and immunity-weakening medications, intellectual or developmental disabilities
At risk: immune deficiencies, autoimmune disorders, stroke or cerebrovascular disease, dementia, diabetes, liver disease, all other cancers, respiratory diseases, spleen problems, heart disease, hypertension with end organ damage, diagnosis of mental disorder, substance use disorders, thalassemia, pregnancy, immunocompromising health conditions, and other disabilities requiring direct support
Based on congregate settings
Vaccinations based on congregate settings are expected to begin in April along with essential caregivers.
This category includes at-risk staff, essential caregivers and residents in the following congregate settings: supportive housing, developmental services, emergency homeless shelters, other homeless populations not in shelters, mental health and addictions congregate settings, homes for special care, violence against women shelters and anti-human trafficking residents, children’s residential facilities, youth justice facilities, Indigenous healing and wellness, provincial and demonstration schools, on-farm temporary foreign workers, bail beds and Indigenous bail beds, adult correctional facilities.
Employees who cannot work from home
Vaccinations based on employment is expected to begin in June.
First group of workers to get vaccine: elementary and secondary school staff, workers responding to critical events, childcare and licenced foster care workers, food manufacturing workers, agriculture and farm workers.
Remaining workers unable to work remotely: high-risk and critical retail workers, remaining manufacturing labourers, social workers, courts and justice system workers, lowest-risk retail workers, transportation, warehousing and distribution, energy, telecom, water and wastewater management, financial services, waste management, mining, oil and gas workers.
Hot spots with high rates of death, hospitalizations and transmission
Some public health units will receive up to 920,000 doses of the vaccine to target hot spots, with a continued age focus.
Here are the priority regions:
• Peel Region
• Simcoe Muskoka
• Wellington Dufferin Guelph
• South West
Officials stressed that the timeline presented on Friday is dependent on vaccine supply.
Where are we in Phase 1?
The province is still moving through Phase 1 high-priority groups in its vaccination efforts.
As of March 5, nearly 80 per cent of long-term care residents in Ontario have been fully immunized against the novel coronavirus. Over 67 per cent of long-term care staff and more than 52 per cent of staff at retirement homes have received at least their first dose of the vaccine
More than 820,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered so far, with more than 260,000 Ontarians fully immunized.
Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require a second dose to be fully effective. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recently recommended that health officials can extend the interval for the second dose to about four months instead of the typical 21-day or 28-day wait.
Ontario officials have said it will move to this recommendation as of March 10, “with some limited exceptions.”
“This will allow Ontario to rapidly accelerate its vaccine rollout and maximize the number of people receiving first dose within a context of limited supply,” officials said in a presentation.
Speaking to reporters on Friday afternoon, the head of the COVID-19 vaccine task force in Ontario said the province has seen a “seismic shift in our vaccination opportunities” over the past week.
“We have a steady flow of vaccines, and we have confidence that that flow will continue uninterrupted, or we are gaining confidence every day that that flow will continue uninterrupted, for the vaccines arriving in Ontario,” retired Gen. Rick Hillier said.
On Feb. 26, the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for use by Health Canada. Ontario is expected to receive 194,500 doses of this vaccine next week and will be given to people between the ages of 60 and 64.
Ontario is also expecting about 173,160 doses of the Pfizer-NioNTech vaccine next week and 174,330 doses for the next two following weeks.
The province is also expecting about 160,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine next week and 323,200 doses the following week.
A fourth vaccine was approved by Health Canada on Friday. Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine only requires one dose for full immunization, something Hillier called a “game-changer.”
How will people get the vaccine?
Provincial officials said they expect about 80 per cent of vaccinations in Ontario to take place at an immunization clinic in Phase 2 and Phase 3.
The start date for the province’s online booking system and call centre remains the same—March 15. If public health units want to begin mass immunizations at an earlier date, they will have to use their own systems.
The booking system is being tested in six regions across Ontario until March 8, and as of 7:40 p.m. on March 2, has been used by 308 residents.
The province has earmarked the time between March 8 and the launch on May 15 as “process improvement” time.
The province will also be launching a pilot program in Toronto, Windsor and the Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington region that utilizes pharmacies and primary care providers to administer shots.
Pharmacies will use their own booking systems to schedule vaccination appointments. The majority of AstraZeneca vaccine doses are expected to go to both pharmacies and primary-care providers.
While officials refused to provide a date for when all Ontarians may receive the first dose of the vaccine, Hillier optimistically challenged officials to get a shot into the arm of every person in the province by June 20, the first day of summer.
“I want to say by the first day of summer, we want to have, vaccine supply dependent, we want to have a first needle in the arms of every person in Ontario, who is eligible for the vaccine, and who wants to get it.”
Under the current timeline presented by health officials, those over the age of 60 are expected to receive their first dose of a vaccine by the end of May. The timeline does not include a lot of information regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine, which will begin being administered to those between the ages of 60 and 75 this month.
Hillier added that with both the AstraZeneca and the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine, he hopes the province can “crush those timelines.”