Ontario to release updated COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan as province sees 1,250 new cases

Ontario officials are expected to provide an update on the province’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout on Friday, as residents of three health units also wait to see if stay-at-home orders will be lifted for their regions.

Premier Doug Ford is scheduled to hold a news conference beginning at 1 p.m. ET at Queen’s Park. Ford’s office says he will be joined by the minister of health, chief medical officer of health, solicitor general and the head of Ontario’s vaccine task force.

You’ll be able to watch the news conference live in this story.

Several recent developments forced members of the vaccine task force to revise Ontario’s immunization strategy. 

AstraZeneca’s vaccine was approved for use by Health Canada late last week, while this morning, the agency gave a green light for use of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) subsequently recommended that the AstraZeneca vaccine only be used for people under the age of 65. As more real-time evidence on the efficacy of the vaccine has become available, however, pressure has mounted for NACI to change course.

Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones suggested this week that, at least for now, Ontario will use the AstraZeneca vaccine for adults between 60 and 64.

Both France and Germany had originally implemented similar guidance for the vaccine, but have since reversed those decisions, citing evidence from countries such as the United Kingdom and Israel, where the AstraZeneca vaccine is already being administered to adults 65 and over.

And earlier this week, NACI said that provinces can safely extend the time between shots of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines up to four months. 

The move followed an announcement by health officials in British Columbia, who said just days earlier they would implement a 16-week interval to ensure that more people got a first dose of vaccine earlier.

Both vaccines have been shown to be more than 90 per cent effective at preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19 after a single dose.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Ontario Ministry of Health said it welcomed the new recommendations from NACI. 

“This will allow Ontario to rapidly accelerate its vaccine rollout and get as many vaccines into arms as quickly as possible, and in doing so, provide more protection to more people,” a ministry spokesperson said in an email.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott has said repeatedly that an updated rollout plan would be released by the government imminently.

According to the ministry, health units administered 35,886 doses of vaccines yesterday, a third straight record high day in the province. A total of 269,063 people in Ontario have now been given both shots of a vaccine.

Also today, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, is expected to announce whether stay-at-home orders will be lifted in Toronto, Peel Region and North Bay-Parry Sound.

Local health officers in Toronto and Peel have asked that their respective units be moved to the grey “lockdown” tier of the province’s colour-coded restrictions system.

That would mean that the stay-at-home order is lifted and non-essential businesses are allowed to reopen to customers with limited capacity, among other changes. You can read the province’s breakdown of each tier of the framework here.

Williams said on Thursday that he remains concerned about the presence of “variants of concern.”

“These are not insignificant numbers,” he told reporters. “We want to be cautious at this time.” 

Most new cases in a week

Meanwhile, public health units reported another 1,250 cases of COVID-19 this morning, the most on a single day in a week.

The new cases include 337 in Toronto, 167 in Peel Region and 129 in York Region.

They come as Ontario’s lab network completed 64,748 test samples for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and logged a test positivity rate of 2.3 per cent. 

Labs also confirmed 155 more cases linked to the virus variant first identified in the United Kingdom, bringing the total thus far to 799.

On Wednesday, 1,002 test samples province-wide were screened for the tell-tale spike gene that suggests the presence of a variant of concern. The spike was detected in 308, or nearly 31 per cent, of those samples. Those samples are then sent for whole genomic sequencing to determine the specific variant of concern.

The seven-day average of daily cases stands at 1,063.

The Ministry of Education also reported another 96 school-related cases: 82 students, 13 staff members and one person who was not identified. Twenty-nine schools are currently closed due to the illness. That’s about 0.6 per cent of Ontario’s 4,828 publicly funded schools.

Public health units recorded the deaths of 22 more people with the illness, pushing Ontario’s official toll to 7,046.

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