Vaccine Update – Are We There Yet?

News about the supply of vaccines continued to be positive this week even as the rollout remained plagued by ever-changing information about how, when, and where to get your shots – especially if you live in Toronto.

Last week, Ontario announced the March 15 opening of a website through which residents could start booking vaccination appointments, starting with those aged 80 and over, gradually moving lower in 5-year increments. Within days, much of that information was out of date as health units outside Toronto set up their own websites and began vaccinating 80 year-olds, as did several hospitals within the city who ended up with extra doses.

All of that was extremely frustrating for those willing to get in a queue – if someone would please tell them where the line forms. Following some false starts caused mostly by a supply delay, Ontario’s delivery plan has been, in a word, chaotic.

For Toronto residents, the biggest problem has been a poorly-conceived provincial allocation, with vaccine delivery based on total population rather than need. This, for example, ignored the fact that Toronto is home to half of Ontario’s health care workers. So while other regions zoomed through their Priority 1 groups and had doses left over, Toronto is still mired in vaccinating that first group, as required by the Province.

Next, amid good news about approval of a third vaccine from AstraZeneca, Ontario decided to follow the recommendation of an expert advisory panel and not give that vaccine to anyone 65 and over, based on insufficient data for that age group in clinical trials. Then it was announced that about 300,000 doses of AstraZeneca arriving in Ontario this week would expire by the beginning of April, prompting a scramble to get the vaccine out quickly to those aged 60-64.

Hey, this is unchartered territory for everyone and some miscues are inevitable and forgivable. But please, can we get our act together?

And now the good news:

  1. Ontario is expecting 2 million more doses by the end of March

  2. The federal government announced that 2 million doses that weren’t expected till summer will now arrive in April and May

  3. Ontario will be delaying the second dose of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to four months (from 3 and 4 weeks respectively) so that more people can get first shots sooner. The decision came after studies showed both vaccines to be approximately 90 percent effective after just one dose and a national science body endorsed the delay.

  4. The Province is rushing doses of AstraZeneca out to those aged 60 to 64, a bonus for those in that age group.

  5. Health Canada today approved a fourth vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. The vaccine has a 72% effectiveness in preventing COVID and, like other vaccines, is extremely effective in preventing the remaining percentage from getting sick enough to be hospitalized. The vaccine has the major advantage of requiring only normal refrigeration and, more importantly, only one dose. The Prime Minister announced today that 10 million doses will arrive “between now and September.”

And when can you expect to get vaccinated? There was a flurry of information today but none of it clear enough to make me feel confident enough to pass on. So more on that next week.

I can tell you that a lot of work is underway at the city level and that we hope to be co-ordinating some of the vaccine locations in addition to operating our own vaccination centres, one of which will be at Mitchell Field Community Centre. We’re expecting to have it open by early April, for at least nine hours a day, seven days a week. If we get enough vaccine, we may be operating 24/7.

But we’re relying on the Province to get its long-awaited vaccination-booking website off the ground March 15, and we can’t do much without an adequate supply of vaccine from the Province.

All of this good news prompted Rick Hillier, who is in charge of Ontario’s vaccine distribution, to predict today that every adult in Ontario can be vaccinated by the first day of summer. From Rick Hillier’s mouth to God’s ears.

-John