The first health-care workers in Ontario to get COVID-19 shots were given their booster jabs Monday as Premier Doug Ford acknowledged there has been a slow start to the province’s vaccination program with daily new cases remaining near record highs.
“With any rollout that we’ve had throughout the pandemic, there a few bumps in the road,” Ford said at the University Health Network’s Michener Institute, where staff from the Rekai Centre nursing home at Sherbourne Place in Toronto were given followup injections.
“We’re ramping it up and you’re going to see a significant difference over the next few weeks.”
Ford did not set any targets or time frames but more details are expected soon. More than 4,000 doses were administered across the province on Sunday.
In total, officials said 47,000 health-care workers had been vaccinated at hospital sites by Monday at 3 p.m. That does not include an unspecified number of nursing-home residents, who started getting the new Moderna vaccine in long-term care facilities in the highest areas of community spread in the GTA.
That means about 100,000 doses ordered by the federal government from Pfizer and Moderna are in Ontario’s hands but have not yet been administered in the province of more than 14 million — and more shipments are coming in the next week.
“The vaccine rollout of our current supply is far too slow and we know that the longer we delay, the more lives will be lost,” said Liberal MPP John Fraser (Ottawa South), his party’s health and long-term care critic, who called for a detailed plan.
“It’s hard to understand how Ontario is last among the provinces for vaccine distribution,” he said. “Doug Ford has said repeatedly that we would be ready when the vaccines arrived, but that is not the case.”
Chief medical officer Dr. David Williams said the province is about to increase the number of hospitals giving vaccines to 21, with hopes of doing 1,000 shots daily at each. Nursing homes in the hottest zones of Toronto, Peel Region, York Region and Windsor-Essex could be completed by mid-January.
Two GTA nursing homes where shots were given included Fudger House and Lakeside.
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Local public health officials are deciding which nursing homes should get shots first, with those in outbreak being bypassed for now because injections cannot be given to people with the virus.
The focus is on “keeping it out of other homes,” said Donna Duncan, chief executive of the Ontario Long-Term Care Association.
Duncan estimates 624,000 doses will be needed to inject about 312,000 residents, staff and family members who are designated as “essential caregivers,” and said the association hopes that can be done by the end of the month providing enough vaccines arrive.
“The sooner we get vaccinations into arms the less bad it will be,” she told the Star.
Ontario is vaccinating health-care workers and the most vulnerable, including people in Indigenous communities, before moving to the general public in the spring.
About 2,800 nursing-home residents have died from COVID-19, including 14 more deaths reported Monday as Ontario reported 3,270 new cases of the virus. Those new infections included 76 nursing-home residents and 37 staff. There were 15 other fatalities.
Associate chief medical officer Dr. Barbara Yaffe said tests found three new cases of the U.K. variant of the virus, which is estimated to be 70 per cent more contagious. Two were in GTA residents who had recently travelled to Great Britain, and the other was in a Peel resident who had close contact with a traveller who had been to Dubai.
Health authorities are keeping a close watch on new cases, which have recently surged to more than 3,000 daily, driven by infections transmitted before Christmas.
The seven-day moving average of new cases has almost doubled in the last month, to a record 2,982 on Monday from 1,759 on Dec. 4. There are now 24,778 Ontarians with cases of COVID-19 diagnosed in the last two weeks, the highest of the pandemic.
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1
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