Governments must dramatically increase the flow of COVID-19 vaccines to Toronto if the city has a hope of running its clinics at full capacity, immunizing residents under increasing threat from deadly virus variants.
Toronto will open its sixth clinic Monday, at The Hangar at Downsview Park, with the final three sites scheduled to open April 12.
Fire Chief Matthew Pegg, overseeing Toronto’s vaccine rollout, says when fully operational, the nine clinics will be capable of vaccinating about 250,000 Torontonians a week, and even more if they expand clinic operating hours.
That would allow a big increase in the age range of vaccine-eligible Torontonians, capped at people people turning 60 this year and over, starting Friday, at city-run clinics with Pfizer and Moderna vaccine, and 55 and over at pharmacies offering AstraZeneca shots.
During weeks starting March 15, March 22 and March 29, for its city-run clinics, Toronto says it received a total of just 90,000 doses of vaccine, or 30,000 a week, less than one eighth of the city’s potential clinic capacity.
“We’ve built a staffing model and a logistics model to be able to vaccinate almost one million Torontonians a month just at the city clinics,” Coun. Joe Cressy, the Toronto Public Health chair, in an interview Thursday.
“The only thing we need is supply. Where we sit today, while supply is limited, we need to get vaccines in arms of the most vulnerable people as quickly as possible.
“That’s how we save lives and that’s how we help to beat this pandemic.”
Dozens of non-city clinics, operated by hospitals and health agencies, are also vaccinating, along with pharmacies. Another 52 pharmacies, including some in northwest and northeast Toronto, hit hard by COVID-19, were added Friday.
About 60 per cent of Torontonians aged 80 and older have had at least their first jab. But across all Torontonians, that number drops to 13 per cent. Just more than two per cent of residents have received both doses and are more or less fully protected as a result.
One of the city’s biggest problems has been, after an initial rush of appointments, getting people to fill open slots at clinics opened so far. That has triggered successive reductions in age eligibility, while younger Torontonians wait.
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Supply constraints are also affecting health agencies’ efforts. Toronto East Health Partners gets vaccine shipments Monday, and is usually running low by the following Sunday, if not before.
“We have not been operating large clinics at any of our locations, including the Thorncliffe Park Community Hub location, on Mondays for a few weeks now, because we do not have a supply of vaccines to do so,” said TEHP’s Shelley Darling.
“We will be running a full clinic at the TPCH hub on Saturday. On Sunday and Monday, we shift to small volume mobile clinics because we do not have enough supply to operate a mass site. TPCH will be back up to large volume on Tuesday after the Monday shipment is received.”
While vaccine shortage is making younger Torontonians wait, provincial designations are delaying protections for others, some experts say.
Workers in essential services should by now have priority for immunization, says Jianhong Wu, a York University professor and Canada Research Chair in industrial and applied mathematics.
“Normally, these sectors involve higher contacts (with others), so essential workers should have priority for vaccines … especially teachers,” Wu told the Star.
The federal government, responsible for procuring supply, and the provincial government, which gets vaccine to local health units, have blamed each other for vaccine scarcity, while promising big boosts in weeks ahead.
Records show Ottawa last Monday shipped Ontario a total of 466,830 doses, which were then sent to health units across the province.
Alexandra Hilkene, press secretary to Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott, said smaller-than-expected Moderna shipments have been part of the problem, with stocks expected last Monday now not expected to arrive until Saturday.
“We look forward to distributing more vaccines to Toronto as we receive them from the federal government,” Hilkene said.
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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