City to begin vaccinating people in Toronto's shelter system this week

The city says it plans to begin administering vaccines to people experiencing homelessness in Toronto's shelter system this week.

Toronto Public Health will work to identify shelters at highest risk of outbreak to begin program

A client at the city of Toronto’s Scarborough Village Residence receives his COVID-19 vaccine from a doctor at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. (Canadian Press/HO-Unity Health Toronto/Katie Cooper)

The city says it plans to begin administering vaccines to people experiencing homelessness in Toronto's shelter system this week.

In a news release on Sunday, the city said provincial officials have updated the vaccination framework to include those experiencing homelessness as part of its Phase 1 priority for vaccinations. 

Toronto Public Health (TPH) said it is working with its health care partners and shelter services to identify homeless shelters at the highest risk of contracting COVID-19 to begin this vaccination program. 

This move is part of several vaccination efforts being undertaken in Toronto ahead of the arrival of larger amounts of COVID-19 vaccines, the city said.

In January of this year, a pilot project that aimed to vaccinate homeless people in Toronto's shelters had been put on hold due to a vaccine shortage.

Framework update necessary, important: board of health

For Joe Cressy, who chairs the Toronto Board of Health and who represents Ward 10, Spadina-Fort York, the reason for this "necessary and important" move is in the data. 

"We've seen that people who are in congregate settings are at a disproportionate risk," Cressy told CBC News in an interview Sunday. 

"In fact, studies have shown that if you're homeless and you interact with COVID, you're 20 times more likely to be hospitalized and in fact, five times more likely to die," he said. 

Cressy said this updated framework is about ensuring that vaccines are administered in a way that's going to protect the most vulnerable in the quickest time possible, something he said is the way to beat this pandemic. 

"By protecting the most vulnerable, we protect virus spread and we protect everyone," he said.

Watch | Chair of Toronto's Board of Health reacts to update in vaccination framework:

'By protecting the most vulnerable...we protect everyone': Joe Cressy, chair of Toronto's Board of Health

1 year ago
Duration 1:15
Joe Cressy, chair of Toronto's Board of Health, says the update to the province's vaccination framework to include people experiencing homelessness is "necessary and important" in stopping overall spread of the virus in the city. On Sunday, the city said it plans to begin administering vaccines to people experiencing homelessness in Toronto's shelter system this week.

Toronto is currently battling 10 outbreaks in city shelters and at least 49 cases of variants of concern have been identified in the shelter system as of Sunday, according to Cressy. 

He said this step is "good policy" that will help curb the spread, what with variants of concern circulating and at a higher risk for transmission in congregate sites. 

"Not only will [this] prevent unnecessary deaths among our homeless population; it will prevent wider spread," Cressy said.

City officials applaud province's move

In a written statement, Toronto Mayor John Tory thanked the provincial government for working with the city to begin vaccinating its shelter population, saying this work will ramp up in the coming weeks as the city receives more vaccines and "it won't stop until every Toronto resident who wants a vaccine has been vaccinated." 

Work to vaccinate first responders is also continuing this week, TPH said. 

Given the limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines presently, TPH said a methodical program that focuses on protecting those most at risk and minimizing virus spread is required for vaccination delivery in Toronto and the system will adapt as supply increases. 

Supply is expected to increase substantially in the coming weeks, the city said, and opportunities for more people to be vaccinated will be announced as information becomes available.

Vaccination will continue for people previously provided with access to COVID-19 vaccinations, including staff at long-term care and retirement homes, as well as residents and essential care givers in these settings, TPH said. 

"Our success in battling this pandemic will be measured in how well we have protected those who are most vulnerable," Cressy wrote in a statement. 

Vaccination resuming 'in earnest' in city, says de Villa

"Vaccination is resuming in earnest in Toronto...Declining rates of illness in our own residents of long-term care in Toronto are showing how much protection the vaccines provide," Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city's medical officer of health, said in a written statement. 

Also this week, the province confirmed that those aged 80 years and older will be among those eligible for vaccination as soon as sufficient supply is delivered.

As more vaccines become available, the following Toronto residents will be eligible for vaccination:

• Residents aged 80 years living independently in the community.
• Patients aged 80 and older who attend hospitals for treatments such as dialysis or chemotherapy.
• Seniors in congregate care settings, such as assisting living.
• Health care workers who are identified as very high priority including nurse practitioners, midwives, pharmacists and. pharmacy technicians, physicians, dentists and dental care providers and their staff who provide direct patient care.
• Adults who are receiving on-going home care.

With files from Ieva Lucs