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COVID-19: Ontario considering sending half its vaccines to hot spot areas, health minister says

The government is also seeking to have "several" pharmacies administer the Pfizer shot as part of a pilot project meant to help mitigate the impact of a shortage of AstraZeneca vaccines
20201029_christine elliott
Health Minister Christine Elliott at a press conference on October 29, 2020.

TORONTO — Ontario is considering allocating half of its COVID-19 vaccines to hot-spot areas to bring down surging cases while it seeks to have some pharmacies administer a second type of shot to make up for delivery delays.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said Monday the province is weighing a recommendation by its COVID-19 science advisory table, which said allocating shots based on transmission rate rather than age group would bring down COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.

Elliott said the province has so far been held back by its limited supply of vaccines, particularly in light of delayed shipments from Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca.

But Ontario expects to receive "much higher levels of doses" from Pfizer-BioNTech, which could allow for a shift in its immunization strategy, the minister said, adding the province will make a decision on the issue "very shortly."

"We don't want to take vaccines away from any groups right now, if we were to go to the 50 per cent (allocation for hot spots)," she said.

"But starting next week, should we decide to move forward with that, we would have a much larger allocation of vaccines to be able to put into those hot-spot areas."

The government is also seeking to have "several" pharmacies administer the Pfizer shot as part of a pilot project meant to help mitigate the impact of a shortage of AstraZeneca vaccines, she said.

The government is looking into how to manage the specific storage and transportation requirements for the Pfizer vaccine, which have so far limited its distribution to hospitals and other such settings, the minister said.

Ontario pharmacies have been administering the AstraZeneca vaccine to those 40 and older. 

The government said last week it couldn't offer the AstraZeneca shot to anyone younger than that, even though Canada's panel of vaccine experts said it could be used for those 30 and up, due to a limited supply. It said at the time there were roughly 337,000 doses left, with no new shipments expected until May.

The vaccine news came as the governing Progressive Conservatives' budget passed in the legislature Monday. The 2021-2022 fiscal blueprint presented last month laid out an eight-year path to balancing the books, relying on economic growth without significant spending cuts or tax hikes.

Meanwhile, Toronto announced Monday that four businesses are being ordered to shut down completely and eight are to partially close under new rules meant to curb the spread of COVID-19. 

The city's top doctor, Dr. Eileen de Villa, said the affected workplaces would be publicly identified once they have  been properly notified. She said the order requires "immediate action."

Public health units in both Toronto and Peel introduced the rules, which allow them to shutter establishments where five or more workers have tested positive for COVID-19 over a 14 day period. 

Peel Region announced its first two closures on Saturday. It partially closed two Amazon fulfilment centres -- one in Brampton and one in Bolton. 

The province reported 3,510 new cases of COVID-19 Monday and 24 more deaths linked to the virus. Of the new cases, 1,015 were in Toronto, 909 in Peel Region, and 391 in York Region. 

The Ministry of Health reported that 2,271 people are in hospital with COVID-19, but noted that more than 10 per cent of hospitals did not submit data over the weekend and that number will likely go up when those reports are received.

There are 877 people in intensive care because of the virus and 605 on ventilator.

A total 4,696,211 vaccine doses have been given in the province so far.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 26, 2021.

The Canadian Press