The Ontario government is implementing the largest flu immunization campaign in Ontario’s history. The campaign is part of the province’s comprehensive plan to prepare the health system for a second wave of COVID-19. The plan, entitled Keeping Ontarians Safe: Preparing for Future Waves of COVID-19, sets out a series of steps to prevent, identify and respond to any outbreak scenario this fall.
Details were provided on Tuesday by Premier Doug Ford and Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health.
“We’ve been working through the summer to put in place a robust and comprehensive plan to tackle a potential, more challenging second wave of COVID-19,” said Ford. “It’s important that we prepare for any scenario in order to protect all of our citizens, especially our seniors and most vulnerable. Our government is doing everything it can to defeat this deadly virus, including delivering an unprecedented flu shot campaign to maintain capacity in our hospitals.”
The Keeping Ontarians Safe plan will:
- Maintain strong public health measures, including continued expansion of testing and case and contact management;
- Quickly identify, manage and prevent COVID-19 outbreaks;
- Accelerate efforts to reduce health service backlogs;
- Prepare for surges in COVID-19 cases;
- Recruit, retain, train and support health care workers, while also continuing to engage families and caregivers; and
- Implement the largest flu immunization campaign in Ontario’s history.
Given the size and complexity of the Keeping Ontarians Safe plan, the province will release details over the coming days.
“Our government has been working directly alongside our partners on the frontlines to ensure the health system is ready to deal with any future waves of COVID-19,” said Elliott. “While our best defense continues to be our everyday actions to stop the spread, like practising physical distancing, wearing face masks and staying home when ill, we have developed a plan that prepares us for any eventuality, including the approaching flu and cold season.”
The annual spread of the flu presents an additional challenge to Ontario’s response to future waves of COVID-19. That’s why the province is investing almost $70 million to purchase flu vaccines to deliver a robust and expanded campaign this year. Ontario has implemented several measures, such as:
- Ordering 5.1 million flu vaccine doses in partnership with the federal government and other provinces and territories, 700,000 more than the approximated usage last year. This includes 1.3 million high-dose vaccine doses for Ontario seniors, especially those with pre-existing health conditions;
- Prioritizing early distribution of the flu vaccine for vulnerable populations in long-term care homes, hospitals and retirement homes;
- Investing an additional $26.5 million to purchase additional flu vaccine doses if required and made available through the national vaccine bulk procurement program;
- For the first time in Ontario’s history, improving access by allocating high-dose flu vaccines for seniors to participating pharmacies; and
- Launching a public education campaign to encourage getting the flu shot.
“The Ontario Pharmacists Association is very pleased that pharmacy professionals will have a significant role in the Ontario government’s fall preparedness plan to protect Ontarians this year from flu and COVID-19,” said Justin Bates, CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association. “The Ontario government’s decision to expand the high-dose flu vaccine program recognizes the high degree of accessibility of frontline pharmacy professionals, especially during the pandemic, as well as pharmacy’s dramatic success story in boosting immunization rates against influenza.”
The flu shot will be available in the coming weeks at primary care provider offices and public health units for anyone over the age of six months, and participating pharmacies for anyone five years of age or older. When getting the flu shot, Ontarians should continue to follow COVID-19 public health measures, including wearing a face covering, frequent handwashing, and maintaining physical distance from those outside their household or social circle.