Ontario taps former head of Canadian military to lead COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force
TORONTO -- The Ontario government is calling on the former head of the Canadian Armed Forces to lead its newly announced COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force.
Premier Doug Ford made the announcement Monday, saying that retired Gen. Rick Hillier will chair the group while advising the province’s development and eventual rollout of the immunization program.
“We need military precision,” Ford said at the announcement at Queen’s Park. “There’s no one better in the county than General Hillier to make sure this distribution happens.”
Hillier brings with him his experience as former Chief of Defence Staff for the Canadian Forces and Commander of the NATO-led forces during the War in Afghanistan.
He and a group of experts in operations and logistics, federal-provincial relations, public health, immunization and ethics will lead the task force in the delivery, storage and distribution of the vaccines.
Ford said he has “100 per cent” confidence in the team’s ability, despite not actually knowing exactly how many doses of the vaccine the province is set to receive from the federal government or when they will be delivered.
The premier said he contacted Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland Monday morning for an update on that front saying that “she’ll get back to us on a date.”
“Once we get that date, we start working backwards.”
Last week, Ontario’s Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province is expecting 1.6 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 800,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine between January and March of 2021.
Those numbers caused confusion after the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health said he wasn’t aware of where Elliott got her numbers.
The premier backed her up a day later, saying he stood behind the information she provided during question period at Queen’s Park, even as federal officials refused to confirm the number.
Less certain today, Elliott said the Ontario government had a “pretty good idea based on per capita distribution” of how many vaccines they would be receiving over the next few months.
Specifics aside, Elliott said they expect to roll out the first tranche of vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna between January and March of 2021 followed by a second tranche from March until “about” July.
Though it’s unclear who will be receiving the vaccine first, Elliott said she “expects” that it will go to the province’s most vulnerable, including long-term care residents and frontline health care workers.
Those vaccinated will need to receive a second dose within 21 days of the first, which Elliott said will require “very precise clinical records.”
“That’s why we have people with various degrees of knowledge and experience to make sure that we do this properly,” she said.
According to the numbers outlined by the Ontario government, the initial vaccine roll out will protect about 1.2 million Ontarians.
The Government of Canada has already signed deals with Pfizer for a minimum of 20 million doses of its vaccine candidate and 56 million doses from Moderna, neither of which have been approved by Health Canada.