Incomplete national data makes it hard to assess exactly how far along Canada is on vaccination

Officials in Canada's most populous province are not submitting key COVID-19 data to the federal government's health agency, making it difficult to get a clear, national picture of how the first phase of the country's vaccination program is progressing.

Ontario's 'key population' vaccination data missing from Public Health Agency of Canada reporting

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott watch as a health-care worker administers the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to personal support worker Anita Quidangen, who became the first person in Ontario to receive both doses, on Jan. 4. in Toronto (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

Officials in Canada's most populous province are not submitting key COVID-19 data to the federal government's health agency, making it difficult to get a clear, national picture of how the first phase of the country's vaccination program is progressing.

Since Dec. 19, provinces and territories have been reporting the number of people vaccinated in three target populations that are top priority groups in the first phase: adults living in group settings, adults over the age of 80 and health workers.

The data is gathered by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and published once a week on its vaccine coverage website — with one key exception.

"Data for Ontario are not included," reads a disclaimer on the PHAC site.

The reason given is that the province's data is "not broken down by key population groups."

In an email in response to CBC's request for more information, a spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of Health said the ministry is working with PHAC to provide more data in "the near future."

In a statement released on Sunday, the chair of the province's COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force outlined a list of priority recipients for vaccination that included some health-care workers and adults aged 80 and over as "next priority" groups.

The ministry also provided some general estimates to CBC of its progress vaccinating some of the key populations so far. 

It said that as of Tuesday:

  • More than 63,800 long term care (LTC) residents have received at least one dose.
  • More than 33,900 retirement home (RH) residents have received at least one dose.
  • More than 42,700 LTC residents have received two doses
  • More than 17,600 RH residents have received two doses.

As of 8 p.m. ET Tuesday:

  • 176,279 doses were administered to health-care workers targeted for priority vaccination.
  • 84,385 doses were administered to LTC health-care workers.
  • 25,660 doses were administered to retirement home health-care workers.

Trudeau says Canada entering 'big lift' phase of vaccination

The latest PHAC numbers are from Feb. 6. But even with the time lag and the missing Ontario information, this data is one of the best measurements Canadians currently have of how the country is actually doing when it comes to vaccinating those first in line — as they try to predict when the general public will be able to get inoculated.

PHAC's "health-care workers targeted for priority vaccination" category is progressing most quickly. A reported cumulative total of 397,154 people in that category have received at least one vaccine dose, representing 55.35 per cent of the priority group.

That group is followed by the "seniors in group living settings," with a reported cumulative total of 149,305 people, or 52.74 per cent, having received at least one dose.

Finally, a reported 116,600 adults over the age of 80 have received at least one dose, which works out to 11.57 per cent.

Over the weekend, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) updated its guidance on which groups will be prioritized in the second phase of COVID-19 immunization.

It recommends that health-care workers not included in the initial rollout, essential workers and people living and working in group settings such as correctional facilities and homeless shelters be prioritized.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, announced the update  on Twitter with upbeat hashtags and an invitation to Canadians to "rejoice" over a decline in COVID-19 activity.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau struck a similarly hopeful tone when he spoke of a "big lift" phase of the vaccine rollout in coming weeks and reiterated his promise that every Canadian who wants a shot will get one by the end of September.

But with winter weather delaying vaccine shipments, a recent variant outbreak in Newfoundland and Labrador, and uncertainty around how prepared provinces are to ramp up vaccinations, it's unclear how that promise will play out.

Provinces and territories decide

Ultimately, as PHAC stated in an email to CBC News, each province and territory is responsible for the "deployment and prioritization of the vaccination, via their public health authorities on the ground."

The NACI guidelines are just that — a compass designed to help them navigate the ethical and logistical challenges involved with mass immunization.

Two months into the effort, fewer than one per cent of Canadians have been fully vaccinated.

To keep the federal government's September deadline, Canada will need to administer more than 265,000 doses a day over the next 226 days to fully vaccinate 30 million people.


Marion Warnica is a journalist with CBC News. She has lived in and reported from Rwanda, Thailand, Peru and Australia — and is the recipient of two national RTDNA awards for investigative journalism. twitter: @warnicam

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