The Current

Over 2,000 Ontarians got COVID-19 vaccine shots this week, but there's a long way to go: Rick Hillier

Retired general Rick Hillier says Ontario has learned a lot in the first few days of vaccinations, but there is a long road ahead.

'We're all going to have to be patient,' said retired general Hillier, head of province's vaccine rollout

Retired general Rick Hillier is overseeing the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in Ontario. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

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More than 2,000 Ontarians have received their first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine this week, but the retired general overseeing the rollout is warning people that the pandemic isn't over yet.

"You've just got to take a deep breath and realize it's going to be some months yet," said retired general Rick Hillier, chair of Ontario's Vaccine Distribution Task Force. 

"Our schedule shows us not getting a lot of vaccines until April, May and June. So we're all going to have to be patient," he told The Current's Matt Galloway.

Hillier explained that in the first quarter of 2021, Ontario plans to vaccinate the most vulnerable and front-line health-care workers — about 1.4 million people. But the province is only expecting 2.4 million vaccines to be delivered during that timeframe, which would be enough to vaccinate 1.2 million people.

"In short, there is more demand than supply just for those first two priorities alone," he said. 

First resident receives COVID-19 vaccination at Quebec long-term care home

2 years ago
Duration 0:51
Gisèle Lévesque, 89, became the first Canadian to receive a vaccination against COVID-19 at CHSLD Saint-Antoine in Quebec City. (Video provided by Quebec's Health ministry)

The first Canadians received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Monday, after Health Canada approved the vaccine last week

The Globe and Mail's Health Columnist André Picard says that with the arrival of vaccines, come fears over "vaccine euphoria."

"My big worry is … people are seeing the news and saying, 'Ah, the vaccine is coming, I don't have to worry anymore. I'm going to go home and I'm going to have that Christmas party," he said.

There still need to be sacrifices to curb the spread of COVID-19, he told Galloway.

"This is the key time now to suffer a little bit more."

Canadian lockdowns not strict enough: Picard

The CBC's Coronavirus Tracker recorded 182,170 new confirmed cases in the past month (Nov. 17- Dec. 18), accounting for more than 37 per cent of the 488,638 cases recorded throughout the pandemic. While several provinces have introduced new lockdown measures to try to bring the numbers down, the number of daily new cases continues to outstrip previous records. 

Picard said the lockdowns aren't strict enough to be effective. 

"Canada is one of the only places in the world where we say we have a lockdown, and people are going shopping five times a day," he told Galloway.

"We should have learned a long time ago that just doesn't work. You have to really crack down entirely if you expect good results."

He pointed to Melbourne in Australia, where a strict lockdown imposed a nightly curfew and closed virtually everything but grocery stores for months. The strategy is credited with reducing a July surge of cases to near-zero.

"That's what you have to do if you really want to get control," Picard said, adding that it was still within "the realm of possibilities" for Canadians to get behind similar measures.

But he warned it's not possible to achieve that without financial support for businesses and people who are left unable to work.

"It has to be the full package," he said.

Australia crushes COVID-19 second wave with aggressive lockdowns

2 years ago
Duration 5:13
Australia became one of the few countries in the world, and one with many similarities to Canada, to beat back a second wave of COVID-19 and bring its case count near zero.

Lessons learned in first week: Hillier

Hillier said 6,000 doses had arrived in Ontario this week — enough to give 3,000 people the required two injections — and were split evenly between the two sites: Toronto's University Health Network and The Ottawa Hospital.

The first four days of vaccinations have taught his team "a lot about how we're going to have to reach out to people, how we are going to have to organize the online registration for vaccination appointments, and how we're going to have to record people," he said.

Distribution plans were also adjusted to address the requirement that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine must be stored at –70 C.

Hillier said the initial plan had been to thaw and mix the vaccines when they arrived at UHN and the Ottawa Hospital. The doses would then have been brought to long-term care homes, to vaccinate residents and staff where they lived and worked.

But given temperature sensitivities, Pfizer advised against unnecessary transport.

Because the vaccines couldn't go to the people, Hillier said the plan was adjusted to bring the people to the vaccine. 

Head of Ontario vaccine task force celebrates arrival of vaccine

2 years ago
Duration 0:51
Retired general Rick Hillier, head of Ontario's vaccine task force, calls the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine 'an incredible day.' 'We're on the way out of the abyss,' he said.  

"The doctors tell us that by doing that, we increase the protection of the residents in the home incredibly, because the vector by which the virus goes into the homes, as I think we all know, is through the people who work there."

He said wider distribution will be possible with vaccines that have less restrictive storage requirements — such as the Moderna one, which needs to be stored at a comparatively balmy –20 C and is awaiting approval from Health Canada. 

On Friday, the Ontario government released a list of 17 additional health-care sites which will receive doses of the vaccine for distribution.

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Julie Crysler and Rachel Levy-McLaughlin.

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