Ford government asks Hamilton to stop vaccinating health-care workers amid limited supply
A slowdown in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine supply forced the order from the province
On orders from the province, Hamilton Public Health and local hospitals have stopped giving out first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to everyone except residents of long-term care homes and high-risk retirement homes.
A Tuesday memo to staff at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) attributed the changes to a "reduction and uncertainty regarding vaccine supply."
Maria Hayes, spokesperson for St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton, also said it's because of a slowdown in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine supply.
"This measure is temporary. Based on the current schedule of vaccine shipments to Hamilton, we expect to resume distribution of first doses to hospital health-care workers by late February or early March," she wrote.
HHS spokesperson Wendy Stewart confirmed the contents of the staff memo, saying no first or second doses would be given to staff, physicians, residents and learners.
She also confirmed the interval between the first and second dose for hospital staff, physicians, residents and learners has been extended to between 35 and 42 days, as per provincial direction.
The memo to staff acknowledged the news would be upsetting to some.
"We recognize this will be disappointing news for our staff and physicians wishing to receive the vaccine as soon as possible," read the message from executives Dave McCaig, Bruce Squires and Leslie Gauthier.
The memo offered assurances that the decision to extend the interval between doses was made by experts at the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control.
Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, the city's medical officer of health, also says at that point, a single dose of the vaccine protects about 92 per cent of people. The second dose increases that number to 95 per cent. And there are some signs from other vaccines, delaying the dose makes the protection better and longer, Richardson said.
Almost 3,000 people in Hamilton fully vaccinated
Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, the city's medical officer of health, said she is glad public health was able to immunize all the long-term care and high-risk retirement residents who wanted to be vaccinated.
Now, the focus is on reaching those who were too sick for a first dose and giving out second doses.
"We were vaccinating in outbreak homes so if somebody was experiencing COVID or acutely sick with something else, you don't administer vaccine in those circumstances," she said.
Ontario will maintain the maximum interval of 21-27 days from first dose to second dose for long-term care and retirement home residents.
Richardson wouldn't reveal the number of vaccines in Hamilton, and said there may be a need to share the supply with other municipalities, but added there is enough to get the city through the next few weeks.
She said some 19,000 doses have been handed out in Hamilton and 16,000 people have had a first dose.
Roughly 6,200 health-care workers at HHS and St. Joe's have received the vaccine. Almost 3,000 people in Hamilton have had both doses.
Vaccine pause comes amid supply uncertainty
The Ministry of Health said in a statement its plan to vaccinate long-term care, high-risk retirement and First Nations elder care residents is "critical."
"By vaccinating and protecting people in these settings, we will decrease the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks, severe illness, and deaths," read a statement.
The province's plan is to complete first doses of vaccination to long-term care, high-risk retirement and First Nations elder care residents by Feb. 5.
"That's absolutely something that needs to happen," Richardson said.
The ministry also said it is protecting access to second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine too.
It says more than 160,000 Ontarians have already received their first dose, but the province won't be receiving vaccine deliveries this week and will receive just over 26,000 doses for the first weeks of February.
"As soon as we have confidence in steady supply and regular deliveries we'll continue to ramp up," read the ministry's statement.
"The government is ready to administer the COVID-19 vaccine and expand the number of vaccination sites as soon as doses are received. Ontario has capacity to vaccinate nearly 40,000 people per day and is building capacity to triple or quadruple that capacity pending federal government supply."
It comes as Ottawa has been managing concerns about vaccine supply and rollout as the European Union threatens protectionist measures to limit the export of doses abroad.
"When we look at the issues of countries not sharing vaccine, that's where, on one hand, I understand it, that's why domestic production of vaccine is always very important, but it's something we don't want to see and something I hope as a global community we come forward to understand how we all work together."
With files from John Paul Tasker