Ongoing vaccine delays and reduced shipments have forced the Ontario government to update its goal of completing the administration of first doses of COVID-19 vaccines to residents in each long-term care, high-risk retirement and First Nations elder care home to February 10. Amidst these delays, vaccination teams will be distributing vaccines in First Nations fly-in communities in the north as part of Operation Remote Immunity, beginning this week.

Details were provided by Premier Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, and General Rick Hillier (retired), Chair of the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force.

“While it’s disappointing that vaccine supplies are being delayed, General Hillier and his team are doing a fantastic job of getting vaccines into the arms of our seniors and those who care for them, and now to remote First Nations communities” said Premier Ford. “It’s clear we need to start production of COVID vaccines here in Canada, and I will continue pushing for that to begin as quickly as possible. In the meantime, we are continuing to build our capacity so when we receive enough supply for mass vaccinations, we will be ready.”

Last week, Ontario developed a plan to accelerate vaccination of the most vulnerable populations across Ontario with the goal of visiting each long-term care, high-risk retirement, and First Nations elder care home in the province to administer first doses by February 5, 2021, pending this week’s delivery dates. Since that time, the federal government has confirmed Ontario’s allocation of the Moderna vaccine will be significantly reduced by 18,200 doses, to 63,400 doses. With the reduced shipment anticipated to be received late this week, doses will be delivered to public health units across Ontario to ensure residents of these homes are offered their first dose by February 10, 2021.

The decrease in supply of the Moderna vaccine is in addition to further reductions in Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shipments from the federal government, which resulted in no deliveries for the week of January 25, 2021, and a reduced shipment of just over 26,000 doses for the first week of February.

The province’s initial approach was to offer vaccination to all residents, staff and essential caregivers working at long-term care and high-risk retirement homes to provide the opportunity for best overall protection. In response to the reduction in vaccine supply, the province prioritized the vaccination of residents of long-term care, high-risk retirement and First Nations elder care homes.

The province is expecting approximately 310,000 doses to be delivered in the remaining weeks of February. Once sufficient doses are available, vaccinations will resume to provide first doses for staff and essential caregivers in settings with the most vulnerable populations.

“Despite limited supplies from the federal government, our government has taken decisive action to provide protection to our most vulnerable seniors as quickly as possible,” said Minister Elliott. “Until everyone can receive the vaccine, it remains critical that Ontarians stay home and continue to follow public health measures to stop the spread and save lives.”

In addition to prioritizing the vaccination of First Nations elder care home residents, Ontario continues to implement its vaccination plan for northern, remote First Nations communities. Ornge, Ontario’s provider of air ambulance and critical care transport services, is providing the vaccine to community members 18 years of age or older in 31 Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) fly-in communities and Moosonee over the next three months. This week, vaccination teams will be providing the Moderna vaccine in Neskantaga, Slate Falls, Muskrat Dam, Fort Severn, Kashechewan and Webequie. Planning for vaccine distribution to additional First Nations communities and to urban Indigenous populations is underway through ongoing and regular engagement of the First Nations and Urban Indigenous Vaccine Distribution Sub-Tables, respectively.

The province also continues to protect access to second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for those who have already received their first dose.

“Our government’s vaccine distribution plan continues to focus on getting the vaccine to those who need it most,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones. “Despite the supply challenges, we are forging ahead with our plan to protect Ontarians, starting with our most vulnerable populations which includes remote First Nations communities.”