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


Minister of Health Christine Elliott and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones are scheduled to provide an update on Ontario’s rollout of COVID-19 vaccines at 1:30 p.m. ET at Queen’s Park in Toronto.

Then, at 3 p.m., Ontario’s chief medical officer of health and a co-chair of the COVID-19 science advisory table are set to hold a briefing on the latest projections for the province.

You’ll be able to watch both news conferences live in this story.

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

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. 

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.” 

Pfizer doses coming to some pharmacies 

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

It will begin 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, which more than 1,400 pharmacies were at one point offering to eligible adults, are expected to run out this week.

It’s not clear when further doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be available to Ontario, officials said.

Given that, the province says it is still not in a position to lower the eligibility age of AstraZeneca shots to 30 and up, as was recommended earlier this month by Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI). 

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. The seven-day average of daily deaths sits at about 28.6, slightly below the current third-wave peak.

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.

Ontario health officials plan to open COVID-19 vaccine appointments to all adults in the province by the end of May. (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.

Earlier this month, hospitals throughout Ontario were ordered to halt non-emergency procedures, while critical units at several major pediatric hospitals opened to younger adults with COVID-19 in need of treatment.

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.

An updated analysis by Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table shows that the provincewide R value, a measure of how many people on average a single case will go on to infect with the coronavirus, recently fell below one. An R value less than one suggests case growth is slowing rather than accelerating. 

The table called it an “early, early sign” that Ontario appears to be “heading in the right direction” when it comes to transmission of the virus.

Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the science table, will present the group’s latest forecasts for COVID-19 in the province at a news conference this afternoon. 

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

About 29 per cent of Ontario’s population has received at least one dose, with that number rising to just under 38 per cent for those aged 16 and older.

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. Officials expect roughly one million or so more doses of vaccines to arrive in Ontario over the next week.

Overnight in Toronto, thousands of people in a hot-spot postal code in Scarborough began lining up overnight for a chance to get one of 1,500 available appointments at a pop-up vaccine clinic.

Tickets for appointments were gone before 10 a.m.

Read more at CBC.ca