'V-Day' is Tuesday: What we know about the COVID-19 vaccine in Ottawa

When this week began, we weren’t sure when Canada would approve a vaccine for COVID-19, let alone when it might be injected into the arms of Ottawans. A few days later, we had the answer: Tuesday is “V-Day” in the nation’s capital.

Ottawa was a surprise for some as 2nd site; unclear how many more vaccines coming later this month

Here’s why Ottawa health-care workers will get the COVID-19 vaccine before residents of long-term care homes

2 years ago
Duration 1:13
Retired general Rick Hillier, who is tasked with overseeing Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, explains why health-care workers will be the first to receive the vaccine rather than residents of long-term care homes.

When this week began, we weren't sure when Canada would approve a vaccine for COVID-19, let alone when it might be injected into the arms of Ottawans. A few days later, we had the answer: Tuesday is what public health officials have dubbed "V-Day" in the nation's capital.

It's welcome, if rapidly changing news. And there's still a lot we don't know. 

1,500 Ottawans to be inoculated

But every day we learn more details. 

We now know that 3,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine are expected to arrive in Ottawa by Monday, from the manufacturing plant in Belgium.

On Friday, we heard that the logisticians have already figured out which gate the plane carrying the precious cargo will use when it lands in Ottawa from Toronto Pearson International Airport. 

The route from the Ottawa International Airport to The Ottawa Hospital has already been worked out. The health-care workers who are to be vaccinated will be contacted over the weekend, while the vaccination site is being set up.

And on Tuesday, 1,500 people in this city will be among the first people in North America to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

They will to go to the hospital's Civic campus where — according to Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson — the super-cold freezers are located that can store the Pfizer vaccine at the required temperature range of –80 C and –60 C.

The Ottawa Hospital's Civic campus is where the super-cold refrigeration needed to store the Pfizer vaccine is located. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Because this particular vaccine is so difficult to transport, it's not being offered to residents of long-term care homes, despite the fact they are very susceptible to become very ill or dying from the virus. Instead, it's largely the health-care workers and caregivers in homes who are being identified over the weekend as those who should get the first shots.

Three weeks later, those same people are to get a second dose, which should be 95 per cent effective at preventing COVID-19.

The "pilot," as it's being called, is expected to run for one week.

Ottawa a happy surprise to some

As recently as Wednesday night, it wasn't clear that Ottawa was going to receive any of these very early doses. 

    After all, Ottawa's COVID-19 numbers are relatively stable. And even though we remain in the "orange" or "restrict" zone on the province's five-colour pandemic scale for coronavirus severity, other communities like York, Peel, Toronto and Windsor are in much worse shape

    However, retired general Rick Hillier, head of the province's COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force, said that "Ottawa was selected some weeks ago as one of the first two sites."

    One reason for the somewhat surprising decision was that it was a chance to "test the logistics chain outside of just Toronto," said Hillier.

    And Hillier pointed out that Ottawa has long-term care and retirement homes "that have had COVID-19 visiting upon them in tragic circumstances."

    Indeed, there are still 19 outbreaks in health-care institutions in this city, including seven in long-term care facilities and seven in retirement homes — one resident in a retirement home died just the past Wednesday.

    In addition to the fact that The Ottawa Hospital already had the necessary equipment to safely store the Pfizer vaccine and the trained staff to handle it, a sense of equity likely came into play in choosing the capital.

    Next focus on red and locked down zones

    Ontario officials have been told to expect another 90,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine before the end of December — and as many as 85,000 of the Moderna vaccine if it is approved soon by Health Canada, as expected — which will be distributed to 14 hospitals around the province.

    But there's no set date for their arrival.

    That's why unlike some other provinces — including Quebec — Ontario has decided to use only half of its 6,000 doses to guarantee that 3,000 health-care workers get their full two-shot dose. 

    Hillier told reporters Friday he knows "zero" about the next delivery date, and doesn't want to risk wasting any vaccines in case there are any unanticipated interruptions or delays.

    WATCH | Mayor Jim Watson says health-care workers getting COVID-19 vaccine must travel to hospital to get it:

    Health-care workers will need to visit The Ottawa Hospital to get the COVID-19 vaccine, mayor says

    2 years ago
    Duration 0:34
    Mayor Jim Watson says health-care workers who are receiving the COVID-19 vaccine will have to travel to the hospital to get it because the doses, which need to be stored between –80 C and –60 C, aren’t easily transported.

    Ottawa should be receiving more vaccines before the end of the month. According to a statement from the Ministry of Health, Ottawa will continue to get vaccines after the pilot is over, due to "challenges the region has faced with certain long-term care home outbreaks."

    "As Health Canada approves more vaccines and Ontario receives more doses, phase one will expand to additional locations and populations."

    But it's not clear that Ottawa will be receiving its per-capita share of the vaccine, at least right away. The messaging at Hillier's news conference and the provincial news statement put the emphasis on getting vaccines to the "grey-lockdown" and "red-control" areas of the province, where they've had trouble containing COVID-19.

    Ramping up over the winter

    Any distribution disequilibrium should be rectified over the winter, however, when millions more doses are expected to arrive — from Pfizer, Moderna and possibly two other companies whose vaccine applications are being reviewed by Health Canada right now. 

    According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), health-care workers, institutional residents, seniors over 80 (followed by those over 70) and some Indigenous adults should be inoculated in the first three months of 2021. 

    The "non-priority" population should be able to start receiving the vaccine in April, according to PHAC, which expects that most Canadians who want a vaccine should be able to get one by September.

    There's an enormous number of details to work out before then and unlikely everything will go completely smoothly, and Hillier knows it.

    "There are going to be some bumps in the road," he said. "Please be patient with us."

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