Vaccine Update – May 14

More than half of Toronto residents have now received their first vaccine shot, with the expectation that this number will get much higher as younger age groups become eligible later this month.

This week, the Province announced that starting the week of May 31 those 12 to 17 could start signing up for their first dose of Pfizer – the only vaccine currently approved by Health Canada for that age group.

That follows eligibility for those 30 and up beginning the week of May 17 and those over 18 the week of May 24. The Province has been announcing the actual dates within the “week of” closer to the time. We have been sending out mid-week emails with that specific information as soon as we know it, usually very close to the actual start date. Age eligibility is based on the year of birth – i.e. anyone turning that age in 2021 – rather than actual birthdays.

While this is all good news, please note that the Province has not matched eligibility with vaccine supply, so that the actual appointment dates may be much later than the dates you are allowed to start booking. Already, the nine City clinics are almost fully booked for the rest of this month and into June. To book an appointment, click here.

But a small number of new bookings do become available every day, mostly due to cancellations. I suggest that residents take the first date they can get at whatever location they are able to travel to. If another appointment becomes available sooner or at a more convenient location such as Mitchell Field, you are still able to take that and your other appointment will be automatically cancelled and made available to others.

Over the past two weeks, we have made tremendous progress vaccinating those in hotspots. During that time, the Province allocated 50% more vaccine to hot spots in Toronto and Peel. We asked for that to be continued for another two weeks but the Province has declined, opting to return to a per-capita distribution for municipalities.

If you are trying to please all areas of Ontario, regardless of who is hit hardest due to crowded living and working conditions, there is an obvious political argument for a per capita approach. From a public health point of view, however, you best protect everyone by taking the action that best drives down overall case numbers. This approach lowers the risk that cases will migrate, producing new hot spots. It also reduces the strain on Intensive Care Units, where overcrowding has created a serious health risk to anyone whose surgery is postponed as a result.

The overall supply of Pfizer will increase in June, and there is also some Moderna coming in. But, the use of AstraZeneca has been “paused”, following more concern about the risk of blood clots, which changed this week from an estimated I in 100,000 to 1 in 60,000.

While vaccine supply was scarce and the risk of being unvaccinated was far greater than rare side effects, it made sense to use AstraZeneca, which was and still is considered to be safe. Now, with Pfizer and Moderna more readily available, it is difficult to imagine that very many people would opt for a vaccine with greater risk and lower efficacy, regardless of further guidance. Canada received 655,000 new doses of AstraZeneca this week and has placed them in storage pending further study.

So will those who received a first dose of AstraZeneca be able to get a different vaccine for a second dose? An answer on that is expected soon, following further study.

A pilot project in Ontario has shown that pharmacies, which previously administered only AstraZeneca, are able to handle the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, which require colder storage.

Most residents who received their first dose through a pharmacy should expect to hear back from that pharmacy about the scheduling of a second dose, which should be given within four months of the first. That communication will likely take place closer to the time, as the situation becomes clearer.

– John