Shortages of COVID-19 vaccines have forced major Toronto health networks that serve some of the hardest-hit communities in the province to either ramp down or outright cancel appointments for shots.
The Scarborough Health Network (SHN) says it will be closing its Centennial College and Centenary hospital clinics Wednesday.
Dr. Bert Lauwers, executive vice president and acting chief of staff at SHN, told CBC News the moves will result in the cancellation of about 10,000 appointments between today and Monday. The clinics were each previously administering about 2,000 doses per day, he added.
The hospital network says it will re-open its clinics as soon as its receives more vaccine and that it is contacting everyone whose vaccination appointment was cancelled by the closures and will rebook appointments as soon as possible.
“Scarborough continues to struggle with the incomprehensible disparity in vaccine distribution for Canada’s most diverse community and one of Ontario’s most severe hot spots,” said Maureen Adamson, the chair of the SHN board of directors in a statement.
“Scarborough is the backbone of Toronto,” she added. “Our people are the essential workers that keep Ontario running.”
According to Lauwers, SHN has seen about 2,000 people with COVID-19 admitted to its hospitals overall, and more than 400 admissions to critical care. Meanwhile, at Scarborough’s COVID-19 assessment centres, test positivity rates have reached 24 per cent.
The shuttered clinics were vaccinating residents over the age of 50, Indigenous adults, and health-care workers. Others eligible for the vaccine at the closed locations are chronic home care clients, faith leaders, and people over 18 with high-risk health conditions.
Meanwhile, University Health Network (UHN) has halted registration for vaccine appointments for adults aged 18 to 49 years old in three hot spot postal codes: M5V, M6E and M6H.
In a statement, a UHN spokesperson said that more than 20,000 people registered for a first shot since April 12.
The list is being “curated” and some of those who signed up may be redirected to mass vaccination clinics, the spokesperson said.
UHN currently has capacity for up to 10,500 shots per week, the spokesperson added, but there are not enough doses available to approach that benchmark.
Due to the supply strain, UHN will also be closing its clinic at the BMO Conference Centre downtown and will throttle down its site at the MaRs Centre to 25 per cent capacity until more doses become available.
UHN expects a shipment of 5,000 doses in the next two weeks.
Similarly, East Toronto Health Partners also announced Wednesday that it does not have appointments available at the mass immunization clinic at Thorncliffe Park Community Hub because of a lack of supply.
Meanwhile, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa reported 1,332 new cases in the city Wednesday, with 124 people now in intensive care.
“We are living through one of the worst periods of the pandemic,” she said.
“Vaccine supply for Toronto is presenting a challenge at present.”
Province again says it needs more vaccines
Ontario has administered just over 73 per cent of the 4,506,495 doses of vaccines it has received from the federal government thus far, though about 400,000 of those total doses arrived just yesterday.
That means there were nearly 1.2 million doses that had gone unused.
In a statement, Alexandra Hilkene, press secretary for the minister of health, said every dose the province has received has been allocated to someone with an appointment.
She repeated what Premier Doug Ford has been saying for months — that the province needs more vaccines from the federal government, citing delays in shipments.
“We know that having your vaccine appointment rescheduled is frustrating and are ready to administer the COVID-19 vaccine and expand to more vaccination sites as soon as we receive doses from the federal government,” Hilkene said.
In a statement, Toronto Public Health (TPH) said it is aware of the vaccine shortages being reported due to issues with procuring the Moderna vaccine. City-run clinics are not experiencing the same shortages, TPH said, as they are administering Pfizer.
“The city and health partners plan their capacity and clinic operations based on what vaccine and how much supply is expected to arrive from the provincial government, however, the volumes that we need are arriving at a slower and less predictable rate than we had expected,” the statement reads.
“At this moment, the demand for vaccination exceeds what supply we have available across the entire country. While we are encouraged that so many of our residents want to get vaccinated, we continue to work with our health partners to administer all the vaccines we received to the most vulnerable populations, based on the priority groups determined by the provincial government. When vaccine supply increases, we will look into expanding vaccinations to include the general population.”
The Ontario government has faced criticism about lack of a clear plan to vaccinate people in hot spot areas and essential workers.
Premier Doug Ford announced last week that people aged 18 and older in hot spots would be eligible for a shot, but provided few details about the effort would unfold, leaving many eligible residents frustrated.
Push to let all Ontarians pre-register for vaccine
In a letter to the province posted on his website, Toronto Coun. Josh Matlow and several medical experts are urging the Ford government to allow all Ontarians to pre-register to receive a vaccine.
“Too many Ontarians who have yet to be eligible for the current phase of the vaccination plan are left feeling anxious about when, and how they’ll learn their time will finally come,” the letter reads.
The group is suggesting that a date of birth, postal code, and contact info would be required to put a name in the queue, and would be followed by an acknowledgement that a person’s name is on the list.
Then, once eligible, people could receive an email or text message outlining the next steps to officially book their vaccination.
“This will not only provide the province with helpful data on how many Ontarians are interested in receiving the vaccine, and assist with management of vaccine supply, but also provide an overview of which postal codes are vaccine hesitant,” the letter reads.
“Moreover, and importantly, this will help many Ontarians feel one step closer to overcoming the pandemic.”