Ontario plans to administer the newly approved Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to residents aged 60 to 64, though the province said Wednesday it does not know how many doses it will receive.
Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said the targeted use of the vaccine will help cut illness and death across Ontario.
“We know that from age 60 and up there are, unfortunately, more hospitalizations when someone gets COVID,” she said. “By focusing in on those parts of our population that are more vulnerable, what we ended up actually doing is tamping down and curbing transmission.”
Jones said the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot will not be administered through mass immunization clinics but through a “different pathway,” although she did not elaborate on what that would be.
Ontario said Tuesday it planned to follow the advice of a national panel that’s recommended against using the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot on people aged 65 and older.
“I want to assure you that we have the plans and pathways in place,” she said. “Now, we just need the supply.”
She also said the government has signed an agreement with the province’s pharmacists’ association to have COVID-19 shots administered in pharmacies in the coming months.
Ontario has so far focused on vaccinating the highest-priority groups, including long-term care residents and certain health-care workers.
The province has said it aims to start vaccinating residents aged 80 and older starting the third week of March, though the timeline is subject to change.
Some public health units, however, have moved ahead with vaccinations for the general population, starting with people aged 80 and older.
Those units are taking bookings for immunizations through their own web or phone systems as a provincial portal remains under development.
Ontario has administered a total of 754,419 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine so far.
The province reported 958 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and 17 more deaths from the virus.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said there were 249 cases in Toronto, 164 in Peel Region and 92 in York Region.
There are 668 people currently hospitalized, including 274 people in intensive care and 188 on ventilators.
Meanwhile, Ontario is expected to determine later this week if a number of COVID-19 hot spot regions will move back into its pandemic restriction framework. Toronto, Peel, and North Bay remain under strict stay-at-home orders.
The top doctor in Peel Region said he’s recommending the virus hot spot re-enter the provincial pandemic response framework under its tightest level of restrictions next Monday.
Dr. Lawrence Loh said positive trends are reversing due to a growing number of virus variant cases and he’s recommending a return to the grey-lockdown zone to preserve the progress that has been made in the fight against the virus.
“This does permit a gradual reopening of certain sectors in our community,” Loh said Wednesday. “I know it may be hard to hear for some, but our indicators still remain somewhat precarious and it makes it difficult to recommend any other level.”
He said he wants the region to remain open once restrictions lift, and wants to avoid having to return to a lockdown like Thunder Bay and Simcoe Muskoka did last week amid a case resurgence.
-with files from Holly McKenzie-Sutter.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2021.
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press