TORONTO -- The Ontario government could receive its first shipments of a COVID-19 vaccine as early as next week and has given details about how the shots will be rolled out.

"Our first shipments of a very small number of doses could arrive as early as next week," Premier Doug Ford said Monday.

The province announced that once approved by Health Canada, Ontario will roll out the vaccine in three phases, beginning with long-term care, retirement home residents, and the staff who provide care to those groups. 

Health-care workers, including hospital workers, and other staff who work or study in hospitals will be vaccinated in the first few months of the program as well, the government said.

Adults in Indigenous communities, including remote communities where risk of transmission is high, and adult recipients of chronic home health care are also included in those first to get the vaccine.

The chair of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force, retired Gen. Rick Hillier, said on Thursday at Queen's Park that the first phase will take about two to three months. 

Hillier said Ontario is expected to receive 2.4 million vaccines in the first quarter of 2021 from Pfizer and Moderna. 

"That allows us to do 1.2 million people in Ontario," Hillier said. "We want to get at the most vulnerable population and then get at the health-care workers across Ontario."

"We know we will have more demand in those two groups than we will have vaccines to satisfy, so we can't do it all at once."

For example, Hillier said they would use the initial shipment of vaccines on people in long-term care homes that are located in COVID-19 hot spots, like Toronto and Peel Region. 

Hillier also said there could be issues getting the Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be stored in extremely cold temperatures, into long-term care homes. He said if that is the case staff will be sent to vaccination sites until they are able to bring the vaccine into the homes.

"We are making sure that we're ready to execute on Phase 1," Hillier said. 

Hillier said that Phase 2 will likely begin around April and will take approximately six to nine months to complete. 

COVID-19 vaccine

"That's when the bulk of the vaccines will start to arrive," Hillier said. He said the government will decide which groups will be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine next.

Within Phase 2, anyone who wants the COVID-19 vaccine will be able to get it, Hillier said. 

Ontario would then transition to Phase 3, which Hillier describes as a "steady state." He said that's when the operation turns into something identical to how the flu vaccine is rolled out. 

He said in Phase 3, vaccination sites that are set up to handle with the immunization program will start to close. 

Ford emphasized that Ontario is "very far" from having the millions of vaccines required to bring the pandemic under control.

The government said that at first COVID-19 vaccines are expected to only be available for non-pregnant adults over the age of 18 years old.