The Current

Vaccinate hot spots, or COVID-19 will 'spread and spread,' warns UHN president

With many parts of the country facing another surge in COVID-19 cases, the head of Toronto’s University Health Network (UHN) says vaccine efforts must be redirected to people in hot spots, where the risk of contracting the virus is higher.

Some Toronto-area clinics forced to halt, cancel appointments for shots amid shortages

Nurse Brenda Lotakoun prepares a dose of the Moderna vaccine at a mobile clinic for employees of Apotex pharmaceuticals in Toronto, on Tuesday. Some clinics around the Toronto area have had to halt appointments because of vaccine shortages. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

With many parts of the country facing another surge in COVID-19 cases, the head of Toronto's University Health Network (UHN) says vaccine efforts must be redirected to people in hot spots, where the risk of contracting the virus is higher. 

"The people we're talking about are often those doing precarious work, or work that requires travel — like truck drivers," said Kevin Smith, president and CEO of UHN, which oversees several hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area.

"If we don't bring it under control in the hot spots, it will simply spread and spread and spread."

Earlier this week, COVID-19 vaccine shortages forced clinics in some of Ontario's hardest-hit neighbourhoods to halt, or outright cancel, appointments for shots. The move comes amid confusion in the province over who can get vaccinated when, and where that's going to happen.

While Premier Doug Ford has defended his government's vaccine plan, saying it is not confusing, the Opposition has slammed the provincial government's handling of the third wave, particularly in hot-spot communities. 

Ontario reported a new high of 4,736 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, as a record-breaking 659 people were in intensive care. The province has set up field hospitals in the parking lot of Toronto's Sunnybrook Hospital to help deal with the influx of COVID-19 patients in the region, and expects to open them to patients around the end of the month, according to the Canadian Press.

Smith told The Current's Matt Galloway that the vaccine shortages come down to a confluence of factors — from fluctuating numbers in how many doses are arriving in Canada each day, to interruptions in the vaccine supply chain.

WATCH l CEO of Toronto's University Health Network on why vaccines must be redirected: 

UHN head says third wave worst of the pandemic

Power and Politics

28 days ago
1:41
University Health Network President and CEO Kevin Smith tells Power & Politics vaccines should be transferred from areas where COVID-19 is less prevalent to hotspots where ICU beds are filling up. 1:41

Concerns around the AstraZeneca shot have also thrown a wrench in rollout plans, he added, while the rise of COVID-19 variants has complicated matters.

"It is the perfect storm," Smith said.

"If we had more vaccine two weeks ago, many of those individuals who [would have] been inoculated would now be protected. Unfortunately, the timing of surge, variant and vaccine didn't coincide in the way that we hoped."

Eyes on the long game: Picard

Globe and Mail health columnist André Picard pegs the majority of Canada's problems on vaccine supply issues — an issue he says isn't easy to solve.

Nonetheless, we need to stay focused on the long game, he told Galloway.

"We knew there [were] going to be problems, we just didn't know exactly what they were going to be," Picard said. 

André Picard is the Globe and Mail's health columnist. (andrepicard.com)

"So we have to keep focussing on getting vaccines into arms and not, I think, obsessing overly on the sheer numbers, but as Dr. Smith said, making sure the right people get the vaccines as promptly as possible."

People may get "their noses out of joint" with a policy shift from vaccinating by age to vaccinating people most at risk, but it's the "sensible" thing to do, said Picard.

"Everything we do in the pandemic is about tradeoffs and vaccinations are a really good example of really, really difficult trade offs that we have to make."


Written by Kirsten Fenn, with files from CBC News. Produced by Joana Draghici and Kate Cornick.

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