Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie says she feels let down that Peel Region will not be part of a provincial pilot project in which select pharmacies in three Ontario cities will distribute the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to those in their early 60s.
Crombie said on Wednesday that Peel Region would have reaped benefits from being part of the pilot project. Peel, which includes Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon, has been a COVID-19 hot spot since the pandemic hit Ontario a year ago.
“We were all a little disappointed, we were all a little deflated to learn that we weren’t going to be a part of the AstraZeneca pilot that was occurring in three municipalities, three cities, Toronto, Kingston and Windsor,” Crombie told reporters at a weekly news briefing.
On Wednesday, select pharmacies were to begin booking appointments for eligible Ontario residents between 60 to 64 for the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine as part of the pilot. As of Friday, more than 325 pharmacy sites, including Shoppers Drug Mart and Rexall outlets, are expected to offer the vaccine to those eligible in Toronto, Windsor-Essex, and Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington.
Peel, which logged 244 new cases Wednesday, has been particularly vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 due to high numbers of people in front-line employment and living in multi-generational households, experts say. Its case counts have generally been second only to Toronto’s in Ontario since the pandemic began.
“Of course, we thought we could have benefited from such a pilot ourselves,” Crombie continued. “But we are very fortunate to now have this primary care pilot project starting up here in Peel Region.”
Under the primary care pilot project, primary care professionals in six regions were to begin contacting eligible people between 60 to 64 to book appointments for the AstraZeneca vaccine starting on Wednesday.
The provincial government said in a news release that the project will officially begin on Saturday in Toronto, Peel Region, Hamilton, Guelph, Peterborough and Simcoe-Muskoka. Primary care settings will include physicians’ offices.
“It’s a little bit of a tradeoff,” Crombie said.
“I did note that Toronto was in both pilots. I am sure we would have appreciated being in both as well. But we are very, very pleased to be part of the pilot with the primary care providers.”
Supply is ‘biggest limiting factor,’ medical officer says
Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel Region’s chief medical officer of health, said supply is the “biggest limiting factor” in mass vaccination efforts in Peel and he understands that the province is trying to share available doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“I certainly recognize that our provincial partners are working tirelessly to ensure that the needs of various communities are being met and the supply that is being distributed is being shared in a manner that really addresses the ongoing transmission pictures in various communities,” Loh said.
Loh said the ministry is aware of the COVID-19 situation in Peel Region. He added he was advised that Peel would not be included in the pharmacy pilot.
“We are very grateful for our partnership with the ministry and look forward to hearing, as more AstraZeneca and more supply becomes available, how we can make sure that vaccination efforts here in Peel will be appropriately resourced,” Loh said.
Asked why Peel Region is not in the pharmacy pilot project, the Ontario Health Ministry said on Wednesday that provincial officials held talks with the Ontario Pharmacists Association and Neighbourhood Pharmacy Association of Canada to discuss vaccine delivery.
Alexandra Hilkene, spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott, said in an email that there were conditions for participating.
“Pharmacies participating in the pilot program were required to be part of the 2020-2021 Universal Influenza Immunization Program (UIIP), have capacity and readiness for vaccinations and provide opportunity for both chain and independent pharmacy participation,” Hilkene said in the email.
“Broad vaccine rollout in pharmacies will continue as vaccine supply availability increases,” she added.
Ontario gained access to the initial shipment of the AstraZeneca vaccine this week. It was approved for use by Health Canada in late February, though the National Advisory Committee on Immunizations (NACI) subsequently recommended that it be used only for adults aged 18 to 64.
Members of the province’s vaccine task force said due to limited supply right now, the doses will be targeted toward residents aged 60 to 64 years old, which the province has defined by birth year as between 1957 and 1961.