Ontario unveils details of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine pharmacy pilot

Ontario unveils details of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine pharmacy pilot-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
Ontario’s latest goal for its immunization campaign is to give a dose of COVID-19 vaccine to every adult who wants one by June 20. (Grant Linton/CBC)

Eligible Ontarians aged 60 to 64 in three public health units will be able to book an appointment for the Astrazeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a pharmacy starting on Friday.

Canadians shouldn’t shop around for vaccines with higher efficacy rates, experts say

The Ministry of Health says more than 325 pharmacies in Toronto, Windsor-Essex and Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington (KFLA) are participating in a pilot program to administer 194,500 doses of the vaccine.

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 that due to the 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.

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, retired Gen. Rick Hillier, who is leading the province’s vaccine task force, said of the doses from the pilot project, 29,500 will be going to family doctors, while the rest are going to pharmacies.

Each pharmacy will get about 40 vaccines a day, he said.

Premier Doug Ford said the province should surpass one million overall vaccinations by the end of the day.

Soon, Ontario will have 120 new mass immunization clinics set up, Ford said, and will be in a place to offer up to 150,000 vaccines a day, depending on supply.

“This is an absolute game-changer,” Ford said.

“It appears that our vaccine supply is continuing to improve.”

Provincial officials also say that Ontario will launch an online booking system and a provincial customer service desk for vaccinations on March 15. Those supports are intended to help answer questions and book appointments at mass vaccination clinics, starting with people over the age of 80.

At the news conference, Ford pleaded with the public not to try to use those systems unless they are in that over-80 age bracket. Many locations have had problems with these sorts of initiatives at the outset because demand overpowered capacity.

“If you’re not booking for anyone from 80 plus, please do not go online, please do not call that number,” Ford said.

Long-term care resident deaths down as vaccines ramp up

Officials at KFLA put out a news release today, saying that the health unit anticipates receiving more than 20,000 doses of the vaccine through the pilot project to be administered through about 40 pharmacies. They cautioned that pharmacies in the region are already receiving a large volume of phone calls and that it may take time for each location to get its online booking system functioning smoothly.

The Canadian Pharmacists Association has said that more than 300 pharmacies across the three health units were identified as possible participants in the project, though it is not clear how many will be listed this week.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said she expects that eligible Ontarians will be able to begin scheduling appointments at pharmacies on Friday. Several locations in Toronto, however, are already taking bookings online.

Because the AstraZeneca vaccine can be stored in a regular fridge, health officials intend to distribute primarily through pharmacies and primary care providers once shipments ramp up.

Right now, time is critical, as about 114,000 of the doses are set to expire on April 1. Speaking yesterday, Elliott said none of those shots will be wasted.

“We have been ready to receive the AstraZeneca vaccines and we will be able to deliver them before expiry,” she said during question period at Queen’s Park.

Elliott added that once shipments of vaccines ramp up in coming weeks, Ontario will be able to quadruple its capacity in “very short order.”

The province administered 35,264 shots of COVID-19 vaccines yesterday. A total of 279,204 people have received both shots of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

The effort to immunize those living in long-term care has dramatically reduced COVID-19-linked deaths among residents, of which 3,876 have died during the pandemic. Today was the fifth straight day in Ontario without any additional resident deaths reported.

Campus of Sunnybrook Hospital-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
A mobile health unit consisting of self-contained pods with eight to 10 beds each was erected on the Bayview campus of Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto this morning. (Paul Smith/CBC)

1,316 new COVID-19 cases

Meanwhile, this morning Ontario reported another 1,316 cases of COVID-19 and 16 more deaths of people with the illness.

The new cases include 428 in Toronto, 244 in Peel Region and 149 in York Region.

Health units that saw a double-digit increase were:

  • Thunder Bay: 67
  • Hamilton: 59
  • Ottawa: 59
  • Durham Region: 48
  • Halton Region: 48
  • Simcoe-Muskoka: 31
  • Waterloo Region: 25
  • Windsor-Essex: 23
  • Niagara Region: 19
  • Peterborough: 16
  • Brant County: 14
  • Sudbury: 13
  • Eastern Ontario: 11
  • Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District: 11

The seven-day average climbed for a fifth straight day to 1,238, its highest point in about a month (though it is important to note that, due to a data error, the daily case count on March 8 was artificially inflated by a few hundred infections that should have been reported the previous Saturday).

According to the Ministry of Health, there were people with COVID-19 in hospitals, of which 281 were being treated in intensive care.

Notably, however, an internal March 8 report from Critical Care Services Ontario (CCSO) put the number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs at 344. The CCSO report, which is circulated among hospitals and health agencies, reflects a more accurate accounting of ICU admissions due to a difference in how cases are counted.

Hospitals continue to prepare for the possible implications of a rise in the transmission of variants of concern, which Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table has said could put a significant burden on ICUs.

Toronto sets up field hospital ahead of possible 3rd wave

Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto confirmed today that a mobile health unit is being built on its campus in preparation for a potential influx of patients in April. The field operation is a joint effort between the hospital and the provincial and federal governments.

A spokesperson for the hospital said the mobile unit will have 84 beds, though it can be expanded to accommodate 100 if need arises.

“In the event of an increase in the demand for beds, we expect the facility will most likely be used to provide space for patients who are awaiting placement in other facilities, and low acuity recovering patients which will free up acute and critical care beds in the hospital,” the spokesperson said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in January that two mobile health units would be sent to help hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area. The federal government procured 10 mobile health units last year as the COVID-19 pandemic was worsening in Canada.


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