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Toronto is on track to get 40 per cent of adults vaccinated with at least a first dose by this weekend: city


Toronto is on track to get 40 per cent of adults vaccinated with at least a first dose by this weekend: city

Toronto is on track to have 40 per cent of adults vaccinated against COVID-19 with at least one dose by this weekend. It’s a step toward the Ontario government’s goal of reaching that threshold across the province by Monday.

The city’s vaccination progress, expected to accelerate with increased shipments of the Pfizer vaccine, combined with local COVID-19 infection rates that seem to have plateaued and possibly started to drop, is good news, health experts say.

Dr. Eileen de Villa on Wednesday, was not ready to say the city has turned in a corner in this punishing third wave of the pandemic.

Daily new infections are down from record highs, but she would not say they are “plateauing.”

More than 1,000 new cases per day is not something to celebrate, she said, and to bring this wave under control and have the “kind of summer we want … there is a lot of work to be done.”

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Toronto and Toronto General Hospital, and a member of the province’s vaccine task force, sounded more optimistic.

“Things are moving,” he said Thursday. “Vaccines are pouring into the country which means they are going into arms. May is going to be a very transformative month in terms of the pandemic and the vaccine rollout.”

“We’re far from where we need to be but case numbers are absolutely going down,” said de Villa sai, urging Torontonians to not let their guard down on physical distancing and masking.

The acceleration of vaccination was on display Thursday as the Ontario government announced every adult will be eligible for vaccine by the week of May 24.

Toronto announced that, starting Friday morning, age eligibility for Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at city clinics is dropping from age 60 to 55, with appointments booked online or by calling 1-833-943-3900.

The seven-day average for daily new infections of the COVID-19 virus in Toronto hit 1,292 cases on April 16 and started to drop to 1,115 on April 24.

The same average for new hospitalizations peaked on April 16 at 92, then started to slide, hitting 71 on April 24.

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Toronto’s reproductive number — that is to say, how many new infections each new case generates — has fallen to 0.88 from above 1.3.

Any value below 1 signals a slowing of the spread of the virus.

It takes time, however, for a reduction in new infections to be felt in hospitals, which remain under extreme strain, as 93 per cent of Toronto’s intensive-care beds are occupied.

Bogoch said the provincial stay-at-home order, combined with the city’s recent strategy of aiming vaccine at neighbourhoods hardest by COVID-19 with mobile and pop-up clinics, appears to be working.

“Needles are going into arms and quickly,” Bogoch said. “Inequities in vaccination are not just being ironed out, but vastly remedied and corrected,” as shown by vaccination rate increases for the hardest-hit areas.

Health experts, including Bogoch, believe the Ontario government set the stage for COVID-19’s third wave by reopening too quickly, allowing highly contagious vaccine variants to rage through areas with essential and frontline workers.

The vaccine rollout should allow some reduced restrictions this summer, if what’s happening in highly vaccinated countries, including Israel and the United States, is a guide, Bogoch said.

“My guess is our summer will be better than 2020 — but not quite 2019,” he said.

Dr. Anna Banerji, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto, said she’s “hopeful,” because of the combination of hotspot vaccinations and restrictions on people gathering.

“If we can continue to vaccinate as many people as possible, when they start easing up on the restrictions, hopefully (infection rates) won’t go back up again,” Banerji said.

“Every time, we open and close, it’s disheartening. People get tired and a lot of people are running out of steam, Banerji said.

“We need to be careful to not reopen too quickly.”

David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider

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