Hamilton

Hamilton expected to be one of first Ontario cities to get COVID-19 vaccine, officials say

Ontario's medical officer of health says Hamilton may not have to wait long before it gets the COVID-19 vaccine.

The medical officers of health for Ontario and Hamilton both say the vaccine should be in Hamilton soon

Gisele Levesque, one of 229 residents at the CHSLD St-Antoine long-term care home, is injected with the Pfizer/BioNTEch COVID-19 vaccine in Quebec City on Dec. 14. (Pat Lachance/Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services)

Ontario's medical officer of health says Hamilton may not have to wait long before it gets the COVID-19 vaccine.

"I'm sure a centre like Hamilton will be one of the next ones ... because we're going to make sure we go to all the ones that have a lot of activity," Dr. David Williams told journalists on Monday during a media briefing.

Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, the city's medical officer of health, also said she expects the city to be one of the first in the province to get the vaccine, but is still waiting on more information about the local strategy.

"This is an operation that has been very tightly managed by the province," Richardson said.

"We know because we're in [the red zone] we're one of the first groups that are going to get the vaccine in this first phase."

But this won't mean vaccines for the general population. These will be reserved for local health-care workers.

One of the first batches of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Hamilton on Sunday evening before leaving for Toronto and Ottawa. (Government of Ontario)

Some of Canada's first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Hamilton Sunday evening — but they didn't stay long, moving to Toronto and Ottawa for the first phase of the province's three-phase vaccine roll out strategy.

Dina Carlucci, director of business development and customer experience at John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport, said she only found out about the vaccine's arrival shortly before the plane landed at 5:27 p.m. on Sunday.

Wes Wheeler, UPS Healthcare president, told CBC News that the vaccines arrived in a Boeing 757 after travelling from Belgium to Cologne, Germany to Louisville, Ky., and then to Hamilton.

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Flying COVID-19 vaccine into Canada poses extra challenges: UPS

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Wes Wheeler, UPS Healthcare president, tells CBC Hamilton about why bringing the vaccine into Canada is more challenging than bringing it into the U.S. 1:10

"Coming in from Belgium, considering weather especially across the Atlantic Ocean, coming into Louisville and then … we're shipping into all the Canadian locations in the peak of winter. That poses challenges. We're watching the weather every day," Wheeler said.

"If, for some reason, a plane is not able to land on time … we have backup aircraft, backup commercial flights we can use."

Wheeler said Pfizer made its own special package to ship the vaccine — essentially an 80-pound, dry-ice sandwich.

"The package itself has 50 pounds of dry ice in it because this is a minus 70 C vaccine .... It has some at the bottom, the payload in the middle, more dry ice on the top, and on top inside the box, there's a GPS temperature tracker we can see in real time," he said.

"It's about the size of a two-drawer file cabinet. It's about two-and-a-half feet high."

Staff carry the 80-pound package with doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are delivered to the Maimonides Geriatric Centre in Quebec on Monday. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

It's unclear how many doses arrived and how much security there was. Carlucci and Mayor Fred Eisenberger both said they weren't given much information.

Wheeler also declined to offer more details, but did say the package was driven into the airport for the last kilometre of the trip before it was delivered into a secure part of the airport.

How Ontario will roll out the COVID-19 vaccine

Ford was there to greet the incoming flight as it landed. It marked a major milestone in the massive immunization campaign about to begin in earnest.

"Today's milestone officially launches the first phase of our three-phase vaccine implementation plan to keep Ontarians safe and marks the beginning of the long journey to return life back to normal," he said Monday.

Roughly 85,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine are expected to be provided to 14 hospital sites in Ontario regions currently in the red and lockdown levels of the province's COVID-19 restrictions system by the end of the year.

The province expects to receive 2.4 million doses — enough to vaccinate 1.2 million people — during the first three months of 2021, with vaccines becoming more broadly available to the general public in April.

WATCH | Ontario's 1st COVID-19 vaccines given to front-line health workers

Ontario’s 1st COVID-19 vaccines given to front-line health workers

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Toronto health-care worker Anita Quidangen was the first Ontarian to get the COVID-19 vaccine in an effort to protect her and the long-term-care residents she cares for. But despite the excitement from the first doses, officials warn Ontario has a hard road ahead as the second wave escalates. 4:19

Some 3,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are going to Toronto's University Health Network, while another 3,000 will go to The Ottawa Hospital.

An additional 85,000 or so doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are expected to be provided to 14 hospital sites in Ontario regions currently in the red and lockdown levels of the province's COVID-19 restrictions system by the end of the year.

Health-care workers, long-term care residents and their caregivers will be among the first to receive the vaccine. Adults in Indigenous communities, residents of retirement homes, and recipients of chronic home health-care will also be priority groups, the Ministry of Health has said.

The province expects to receive 2.4 million doses — allowing it to vaccinate 1.2 million people — during the first three months of 2021, with vaccines becoming more broadly available to the general public in April. It will take another six to nine months to immunize all Ontarians who opt to get the vaccine.

Vaccine doesn't mean we can stop being careful

Even if Hamilton does get the vaccine soon, it won't lead to a drastic change in day-to-day life for most people.

"It is still going to be vital that public health measures … still be practiced until it is deemed safe to remove them … which will be well into 2021," Eisenberger said during a Monday media briefing.

Richardson said it's a "long tunnel. There's a light at the very end of it, but we need to keep on being committed in a careful and diligent way as we go forward over the coming months."

"What they've seen with the studies is the vaccine prevents people from getting sick with COVID-19, but now we need to see — and this is just a part of what happens when you roll out a new vaccine —we need to make sure it actually stops transmission of the virus."

Without knowing that for sure, people may end up becoming asymptomatic carriers, rather than people immune to infection.

The warnings come as Hamilton is seeing its highest COVID-19 case counts ever, even after putting more restrictions in place.

How the COVID-19 vaccine works and why it's safe

Matthew Miller, an associate professor at McMaster University's Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, said it is also important to remember that each person receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two doses that are ideally three weeks apart to be effective.

The vaccine, he says, teaches human cells how to make one of the proteins of SARS-CoV-2 (the one it uses to attach to and enter our cells). After making that protein — which Miller said isn't dangerous or toxic to humans — the body learns what the virus does, which can prevent our cells from getting infected.

While the vaccine was created in record speed, Miller said, it isn't the "miracle it has been portrayed to be."

Matthew Miller, an associate professor at McMaster University's Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, says the COVID-19 vaccine is safe, but whether it spares us from infection or merely symptoms is still being investigated. (McMaster University)

"These types of vaccines have been extensively studied for many years for other types of diseases that have just sort of never made it into a wide spread, globally administered vaccine yet, so we do understand a lot more about the safety of these vaccines than is being sort of appreciated. And we also have a lot more long-term data from these other indications than what's being appreciated," he said.

"Despite the trials happening quickly, they still had the exact same safety criteria for approval as all other vaccines."

It will also take quite some time, he said, before the general public gets the vaccine.

"There's going to be even more time to show the good safety profile of these vaccines before they're available in a widespread way ... also I promise you you're going to see politicians getting these earlier than most of us too," he said.

"If Donald Trump will take it — who's pretty science illiterate himself — that's a good sign of safety."

With files from CBC News

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