General public will have to wait until August for COVID-19 vaccine
City will eventually have capacity to inoculate 10,800 people a day, but rollout depends on vaccine supply
Most people in Ottawa will have to wait until at least August before they can expect to be inoculated against COVID-19, a timeline that depends almost solely on the supply of the vaccine.
City officials laid out their vaccination plan for Ottawa during an hours-long technical briefing Tuesday morning, describing the logistics involved in getting needles into arms as soon as possible.
The vaccination program will be rolled out in three phases, based on priorities set by the province.
The first, which we're in now, focuses on residents, personal caregivers and staff of long-term care homes, all of which have been visited at least once already. More than 92 per cent of long-term care home residents have been vaccinated once, and some will receive their second dose later this week.
Retirement home residents, some health-care workers, adults in Indigenous communities, and adults receiving chronic care are also included in this first phase.
The second phase, which may begin in March if the supply is available, will focus on inoculating seniors older than 80, essential workers and others in high-risk situations, although officials say the province is still fine-tuning who exactly will count as high-risk.
Everyone else will have to wait until at least August before getting a vaccine.
Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches told reporters she's confident that health-care workers can vaccinate up to 70 per cent of the population in two months. The city already has four inoculation clinics ready to open at a moment's notice, and is in the process of organizing three more in communities with high transmission rates.
Between these seven public health clinics, two vaccination centres at The Ottawa Hospital, family doctors, pharmacies and mobile vaccination teams, public health workers will eventually be able to vaccinate 10,800 people a day. If there's enough supply, the city can ramp up the inoculation program by operating the clinics 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and opening a drive-thru vaccination centre.
Vaccine supply the main issue
Logistically, the city appears ready to go. Its residents are also primed: a recent poll conducted by EKOS for Ottawa Public Health (OPH) indicated that more than 80 per cent are willing to be vaccinated as soon as possible.
But Tuesday's briefing made it crystal clear that the biggest challenge facing the vaccination task force is the availability of the vaccines.
Ottawa is slated to receive only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is on hold for a week while the company ramps up its production facility in Belgium. But as the crushing demand for the vaccine continues, there's little information on how many doses Ontario can expect in coming weeks.
And while the province was distributing the vaccine on a per capita basis, that's changed with the recent shortages.
The vaccine is a "provincial asset," Ottawa's general manager of emergency and protective services Anthony Di Monte explained on Tuesday, and the government needs to distribute it across the province to make sure it gets to priority groups.
'Difficult decisions' ahead
So Ottawa has to have enough vaccine to give long-term care residents their second doses within the prescribed 21-28-day timeframe, and within 42 days for others in the first phase of the rollout plan.
But if the city is ready to move on to the second phase before other regions of the province are finished vaccinating their most vulnerable residents, Ottawa will have to wait until there's enough vaccine to go around.
"I think we're in not troubling times, but in times where we're going to have to make some difficult decisions at the provincial level to ensure that our most vulnerable and those who the medical team has identified as most critical [get vaccinated]," said Di Monte.
"There may now be movement of vaccine from different jurisdictions. We may be gaining at certain times, or we may lose vaccine because it's got to go somewhere else."