More clarity around who gets COVID-19 vaccine first

A public health nurse administers the COVID-19 vaccine. (File photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

The Ontario government is providing more answers about how the COVID-19 vaccines will be distributed across the province.

During a teleconference on Wednesday afternoon, the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force gave some details about who and what areas get the vaccines first and released its ethical framework.

Task force member Dr. Dirk Huyer, Ontario’s Chief Coroner and Coordinator of Provincial Outbreak Response confirmed the vaccine will be distributed based on risk level and vulnerability with long term care residents and their essential staff getting priority for the vaccines during Phase 1 until the end of March. Health care workers, including first responders such as paramedics, First Nations communities, and home care patients with chronic conditions will also be in the first group to get vaccinated over the next three months.

Dr. Huyer said the vaccines will go to the areas with the most cases first, such as Windsor-Essex. Ontario’s Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe said local health units will then coordinate and direct the vaccines to the populations most at risk of exposure first because they know the area and the need best.

Dr. Huyer said the aim is to protect the populations most at risk but added there are factors in play such as the availability of vaccines. He said the task force is still sorting out the sequencing for other vulnerable groups such as victims of domestic violence and disabled people to determine where they fit in based on supply.

“One of the most important aims of the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force since its beginning has been to ensure that the most promising vaccines are distributed to Ontarians safely, fairly and as quickly as possible,” said Dr. Huyer. “Our Ethical Framework will support the prioritization of vaccines in a way that enhances confidence and trust in Ontario’s COVID-19 immunization program.”

Huyer said he believes vaccination and distribution updates will be a daily affair within days. Dr. Yaffe said the Moderna vaccine is expected to be handed out in Ontario this week. Dr. Huyer said practice makes perfect and he anticipates the vaccine distribution will go faster and smoother as time goes on.

Huyer said the task force has not yet had any discussions around a province-wide immunization passport to identify people who have been vaccinated. Experts have pointed to ethical and legal issues in doing that.

The province said it continues to vaccinate vulnerable populations and those who care for them through Phase 1 of its three-phase implementation plan as additional vaccines become available.

“This ethical framework is a clear demonstration of our commitment to Ontarians to be transparent,” said General Rick Hillier (retired), Chair of the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force. “We know that people are eager to get vaccinated and this framework helps ensure that we do it in an ethical, effective and compassionate way.”

Phase 2 of the vaccine distribution will begin in late March when more vaccines become available to Ontario and vaccinations will continue for health care workers, long-term care homes, retirement homes, home care patients with chronic conditions, and additional First Nation communities and Indigenous populations, including M├ętis and Inuit individuals.

Ontario will enter Phase 3 when vaccines are more widely available to everyone who wishes to be immunized. Prioritization within this group will be based on the ethical framework, will be data-driven and will be dependent on the available vaccine supply. Vaccines will not be mandatory, but people will be strongly encouraged to get vaccinated during this phase.