Ontario to expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all adults by end of May

Ontario plans to substantially expand eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines in May, officials said Thursday, with shipments to the province expected to ramp up in the coming weeks.

With millions of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines anticipated to begin arriving in Ontario, the province’s vaccine task force says it can accelerate its timeline so all adults will be able to register for a first dose by the end of May.

When someone will actually receive their first shot depends on where they live and whether shipments stay on track, health officials cautioned at a media briefing today.

The revised outlook, based only on scheduled deliveries of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, breaks down like this:

  • Week of April 26: All Ontario adults age 55 and up; those 45 years old and up in hot-spot communities; and licensed child-care workers.
  • Week of May 3: Ontario adults over the age of 50; adults age 18 and up in hot-spot communities; those with health conditions deemed “high risk”; and some people who cannot work from home.
  • Week of May 10: Ontario adults over the age of 40; those with health conditions deemed “at risk”; and more individuals who cannot work from home.
  • Week of May 17: Ontario adults over the age of 30. 
  • Week of May 24: Ontario adults over the age of 18. 

You can read more about who falls into each stage in the document attached to the bottom of this story. 

The groups listed above will be able to book using the province’s call centre and booking portal once they become eligible. 

Officials said the process could move even more quickly depending on the potential arrival of doses of the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines, neither of which have further allocation numbers at this point. 

Watch | Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott announces the expansion of the province’s vaccine rollout plan:

Crediting a more predictable and increased supply of COVID-19 vaccines, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott announced the expansion of the province’s rollout plan, which will include more vaccines for hot spots and will allow all adults to register for a first dose as early as the week of May 24. 2:37

Notably, the province said it will also allocate 50 per cent of all available doses to 114 hot-spot communities for the weeks of May 3 and May 10. It is currently allocating 25 per cent of doses for those postal codes.

The move follows advice from Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table that 50 per cent of available doses should be sent to 74 hot spots only. 

“This is exciting news. The way out of the pandemic is vaccines, and the light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter every day,” said Health Minister Christine Elliott.

However, she added, “until the majority of Ontarians have received both doses of the vaccine, we must continue to follow the public health measures we know work and keep us safe.” 

ICUs remain under ‘incredible pressure’

While the number of daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are starting to flatten, patients in intensive care will remain at record levels and under “incredible pressure” for some time, the province’s science advisory table predicted in new modelling released Thursday. 

“There’s a clear reason for hope, but this hope requires a commitment … to the stay the course and make sure the third wave is the last wave,” said Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the COVID-19 science advisory table.

“The current plateau is very precarious,” Brown said, noting Ontario’s curve is flattening at a very high level. 

“The way down will be slower than the way up.”

Under the best case scenario, the province will reach February COVID-19 case levels, around 1,000 a day, by June. That will only happen, however, with effective sick pay, fewer workplaces allowed to open as essential and continued focus on vaccinating high risk communities, the advisory table’s report said.

The three paid sick days announced by Ontario yesterday isn’t sufficient, Brown said. Workers need access to 10 paid days so they don’t have to choose between staying home when sick and paying their bills.

Watch | Reporter asks science table co-chair if Ford government sick days are ‘effective’:

A reporter asked the Ontario science advisory table’s co-chair, Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, if the Doug Ford government’s bill — which includes three paid sick days and passed in the Legislature today — is “effective sick pay.” Here was Brown’s reply. 0:51

Test positivity rates across the province remain very high at 8.9 per cent, said Brown. Five regions have higher rates than the provincial average, notably 18.1 per cent of all COVID-19 tests coming back positive in Peel and 12.4 per cent in Toronto, followed by York, Durham and Niagara.

Hospitals in hot spots remain over capacity and the current 250,000 backlogged surgeries will be an “enormous challenge” to clear, Brown said. 

Pfizer doses coming to some pharmacies 

The province also confirmed that a pilot project that makes Pfizer vaccines available in in select pharmacies for those 55 and up will begin tomorrow.

The project begins with eight pharmacies in Toronto and eight in Peel Region, with plans to expand it to other locations and public health units later in May.

Meanwhile, remaining doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are expected to run out this week, and it’s not clear when more supply will arrive, officials said. 

Similarly, officials were unable to say exactly how many doses of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines the province expects to receive.

The federal government anticipates 300,000 doses of that vaccine will arrive through May, but hasn’t yet confirmed how many will flow to Ontario. Officials said they estimate Ontario will get 116,000 or so.

3,871 cases reported today

Ontario reported an additional 3,871 cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, as total deaths in the province topped 8,000 and admissions to intensive care reached another pandemic high.

The 41 deaths in today’s provincial update — the most recorded on a single day since February 19 — push Ontario’s official death toll to 8,029. 

As of Wednesday, there were 884 patients with COVID-related critical illnesses being treated in intensive care units. Of those, 620 required a ventilator to breathe.

As of April 28, there were 884 people with COVID-related illnesses requiring critical care in Ontario, a new pandemic high. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario’s health-care system continues to be nearly overwhelmed by the relentless influx of new COVID-19 patients to hospitals. Critical Care Services Ontario, a government agency that compiles a daily tally of hospitalizations, says that 53 more adults were admitted to ICUs yesterday alone, as well as one infant with a COVID-related illness. 

This week the Ministry of Health issued an emergency order to allow hospitals to transfer patients who have largely recovered to long-term care or retirement homes, and without their consent if the circumstances necessitate it.

The new cases today include:

  • 1,172 in Toronto
  • 901 in Peel Region
  • 392 in York Region
  • 292 in Durham Region
  • 147 in Ottawa
  • 129 in Halton Region
  • 117 in Simcoe Muskoka
  • 104 in Niagara Region
  • 103 in Hamilton
  • 101 in Middlesex-London

The seven-day average of daily cases rose to 3,810 after a week of declines.

Another 4,245 cases were marked resolved, meaning there are about 38,438 confirmed, active infections provincewide.

Labs completed 56,939 tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and Public Health Ontario reported a positivity rate of 7.6 per cent. The seven-day average of test positivity is about 8.5 per cent.

Meanwhile, public health units collectively administered another 120,567 doses of vaccines yesterday.

The province is currently on track to give a first dose of vaccine to at least 40 per cent of Ontario adults by May 1, officials said.

The province has used 5,027,770, or about 89 per cent, of the 5,637,955 doses it has received to date. 

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