The Ontario government hopes to be able to start vaccinating essential workers unable to perform their duties at home by mid-May, just weeks earlier than originally planned despite calls from advocates to make them more of a priority.
The government confirmed on Tuesday that they are “moving into” Phase 2 of its vaccination plan, which remains age-focused while also prioritizing those living or working in high-risk congregate settings, individuals with high-risk chronic conditions (and their caregivers), those who cannot work from home and at risk populations.
Some hospitals and vaccine clinics are already vaccinating people in these groups, however mass vaccination sites using the province's booking system are still using Phase 1 groupings aside from age.
In a technical briefing presentation Tuesday, officials said that the province has begun vaccinating people aged 50 and older and are “identifying and vaccinating individuals with high-risk health conditions and certain caregivers in April.”
Under a revised vaccination timeline, the province says the first group of people who “cannot work from home” should be able to get their first shots in mid-May.
The first group of essential workers to get a vaccine includes elementary and secondary school staff, workers responding to critical events, childcare and licensed foster care workers, food manufacturing workers, agriculture and farm workers.
The second batch of essential workers will get their shot around mid-June. This includes high-risk and critical retail workers, restaurant 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.
Officials said Tuesday that the timeline will change depending on supply of the vaccines.
Some Ontario doctors and local politicians have been calling for essential workers to be vaccinated earlier in order to prevent further COVID-19 outbreaks in these facilities and to reduce the spread of the deadly disease within the community.
The Ontario Public School Board Association has argued that education workers should be vaccinated during the April spring break to ensure safety in schools, which are also allowed to remain open during shutdown.
Some public health units are taking action of their own to ensure schools remain a safe place for students to gather. The Niagara Vaccine Task Force has said it will be vaccinating about 4,000 eligible education staff during the April break, while Peel Public Health decided on Monday to close schools to in-person learning for two weeks in order to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Officials said Tuesday that the timeline for essential workers cannot be moved up due to a “finite” number of vaccine doses available. They also say that the province’s vaccine plan prioritizes individuals with higher mortality rates and high likelihood of being hospitalized after contracting the disease.
Anyone over the age of 60 can now get the COVID-19 vaccine
The province has said that any region using its COVID-19 booking system will be able to vaccinate individuals aged 60 or older as of April 7.
Prior to this announcement, the government had been reducing the age threshold for the vaccine at different speeds in various public health units.
According to data provided by the province on Tuesday, 85 per cent of people over the age of 80 in Ontario have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. About 68 per cent of those between the ages of 75 and 79 have received a shot and 42 per cent of those between the ages of 70 and 74 have gotten a dose.
The province says that more than 322,000 people in Ontario have received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Officials also said that about 116,700 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are being delivered to all 34 public health units for distribution through primary care sites. Prior to Tuesday, the vaccine was only being delivered to COVID-19 hot spots such as Toronto, Kingston and Windsor-Essex, with additional pharmacies available in select other regions through March.
The AstraZeneca vaccine can be administered to any adult 55 years of age and up.
Adults 50+ in “hot spot communities” can soon get vaccine
The province said that high-priority neighoburhoods in 13 public health units have been identified. These areas include neighbourhoods in Durham, Halton, Hamilton, Niagara, Ottawa, Peel, Simcoe-Muskoka, Southwestern, Toronto, Waterloo, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, Windsor-Essex and York Region.
Some priority neighbourhoods have already been identified. Any adults 50 years of age and over living in the following areas will be able to be vaccinated.
There are already four hospitals in Toronto that are vaccinating adults in high-priority areas.
Ontario to get more than 2 million doses in April
In April, Ontario is expecting to receive a little more than 1.5 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with another 1.6 million expected to arrive in May.
The province should also get about 751,500 doses of Moderna in April as well as 706,300 doses of AstraZeneca.
Officials said they do not know how many vials of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine they will receive yet.
The province hopes to administer more than 100,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine per day during the month of April based on current supply.
Ontario has said that it has the capacity to administer 150,000 doses per day if federal delivery of the vaccine can be stabilized.