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The road to vaccination

To paraphrase a recent headline from the Toronto Star , we are all on The Road to Vaccination. What is frustrating for some, even scary, is your municipality, depending where you live, might be at a different point on this metaphorical road.

Suffice it to say, Toronto’s vaccination program is in its infancy. All the kinks are getting worked out of the system as those eligible for vaccination - currently a limited group which includes seniors 80 and over living in Long-Term Care and their caregivers - try to find their way through it. I’m sure you’ve heard accounts and frustrations of individuals trying to secure a vaccination for their loved ones: clogged voice mail boxes too full to leave messages; websites missing key details such as how to schedule an appointment; emails urgently sent which receive no response. It was especially frustrating in Toronto this week as the news media shared story after story about vaccination sites already set up in other parts of the province. I know that it doesn’t feel good to turn on the TV, as we did Wednesday afternoon, to discover one hospital had an oversupply of doses. The hospital had nearby family doctors’ offices randomly call in their most senior patients to take the extra doses rather than have them expire. These accounts seem to indicate there are different rules for different municipalities. What looks like inequitable distribution, however, all boils down to the available supply of vaccine doses; different hospitals work through their Phase One supplies faster than others. As Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, noted this week, the reduction of virus spread in long-term care and retirement homes demonstrates why prioritizing vaccines for people who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 is an effective course of action while the supply ramps up.

“We have a lot of people to vaccinate,” said de Villa this week. “The partnership in Toronto health care means we are able to deliver vaccines across the city as they become available. The sooner we have needles in arms – and the more needles in arms we have – the better off we all are.” The most important thing to note is Toronto is following the Three Phase distribution program announced by the Ontario government to prioritize the available supply of vaccines. Each phase lays out who is eligible, and when, to begin receiving their jabs. In the early phases, the goal of the program, as Dr. de Villa noted, is to vaccinate the most vulnerable members of the public

Current Ontario vaccine distribution strategy phases Prioritizing groups for the order of vaccinations was a massively collaborative exercise, I’m told. If you look closely at the first phase, you’ll realize it boils down to those at highest risk of death due to living in congregated settings. Toronto’s challenge is size and scope. Those Torontonians eligible for Phase One make up a population group larger than that of entire municipalities in the rest of the Province. It will take another couple of weeks for Toronto to leave Phase One. When Toronto Public Health moves to vaccinating Phase Two - when seniors 79 and under, first responders and other groups are eligible - I am confident we will catch up. It will be critical that the Province provide adequate supply to Toronto, given the larger proportion of Phase One and Two residents in the city. We are told by Toronto Public Health the current map of vaccination sites will be much more fleshed out by Phase Two, including neighbourhoods such as Don Valley North. By that time, I’m also told the instructions for arranging your shot via the Province’s upcoming COVaxON online booking system will be far more widely distributed. I will aggressively promote step-by-step vaccination instructions every week in this space once I am convinced it will get you a better result than we’ve seen this past few weeks. In the meantime, I'm going to provide you the links to the Province’s vaccination page as well as that of Toronto Public Health. I caution these are works in progress: every day many more people receive their first or second doses and the people managing the system learn more ways to improve it.

My staff and I pull together daily in our virtual office to compare notes on how we are doing with our efforts updating residents on the most recent changes to Public Health guidelines. We all want to do our best to inform you on all matters COVID-19 virus and vaccination and are here as a resource to help point you in the right direction. The LTC home, where my dad has been confined to his room for much of the pandemic, had a visit from a vaccination crew in January, and he received his first dose of Moderna vaccine. As he is wheelchair bound with severe dementia and rapidly losing his speech, I was supposed to be there as well to get a vaccination alongside all other essential caregivers. The province allows each LTC resident one essential caregiver. Having missed the appointment due to an urgent Council meeting, I am now experiencing the same frustration as many of you trying to secure appointments. Long-Term Care essential caregivers face possible restrictions of visits if they are not vaccinated.

My Dad receiving a vaccination dose in January

I promise you this: I’m going to do my level best to fight for continuous improvement in our citywide vaccination plan. I’ll start with a motion in Council next week asking for longer hours in all of our clinics once we open up for the general population. Access to your COVID-19 shot needs to be easy and equitable. We’re going have to work around the clock to make that possible.


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