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Jones: Ontario's 34 public health units must plan out and purpose their own COVID-19 vaccination plan

Ontario Premier Doug Ford looks on as a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is prepared by Pharmacy Technician Supervisor Tamara Booth Rumsey at The Michener Institute in Toronto on Monday, January 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout could look different in each of its 34 public health units as the province receives more doses in the coming weeks, the government said Monday.

Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said Ontario is “empowering” local health units to draw up their own specific plans to distribute the vaccine, and all have been submitted to the government for approval.

Vaccines will be distributed to health units based on population, Jones said, and while they must follow the province’s plan to vaccinate priority populations first, they can also determine the best way to serve the needs of their communities.

“We are ensuring through our vaccine distribution that the people most close to their communities – the public health units – are making the decisions on what is the fastest and easiest and most equitable way to ensure that people get the vaccines they need,” she said.

Ontario expects to receive a more steady supply of COVID-19 vaccines in the coming weeks as delivery issues that previously slowed the rollout has been resolved.

The province has so far been focused on vaccinating the highest priority groups, which include residents and staff in long-term care homes.

Residents aged 80 and older, Indigenous adults, and seniors in congregate care have been identified as the next in line for the shot.

Ontario’s health minister said Monday that the rollout will need to look different in different communities.

“The rollout in Toronto will be very different from the rollout in North Bay, Thunder Bay, and so on,” Christine Elliott said.

“It’s up to the local medical officers of health to fashion a plan, whether it’s going to be mass vaccination clinics, whether it’s going to be through pharmacies, whether it’s going to be through physicians offices.”

Opposition leader Andrea Horwath said the province needs to take a more active approach to the local rollouts and ensure all health units have the necessary resources required to speed up distribution.

“It’s worrisome that the government looks like they’re planning to lay any problems at the feet of public health units, which is unfair,” she said.

“The government really needs to have a much stronger and effective control over what’s going to happen with the vaccination.”

The province is creating an online booking system to help expand its vaccine rollout in the coming weeks.

The second phase of its distribution plan, slated for April, is to target the 80 and older group, and then residents aged 65 to 75 through primary care clinics and pharmacies.

It also includes mass vaccination sites, led by local health units, for residents aged 16-60, and mobile sites for high-risk groups.

The rollout is then set to shift into a third phase in August when all other remaining residents can get the shot.

A total of 569,455 vaccine doses have been administered in Ontario so far.

And with deliveries already at an all-time, Toronto incident commander Matthew Pegg says the province has given municipalities a target date of April 1 to be prepared for a broadening rollout.

Pegg says five of the City’s nine mass vaccination sites are already set to go.

“Set up operations are now underway in the sixth clinic and will continue weekly until each of the nine sites are ready to go,” he said.

“Staffing of these clinics is also well underway and we are in the process of onboarding and training the staff required to operate the clinics.”

The province reported 1,058 new cases of COVID-19 and 11 more deaths linked to the virus on Monday.

There were 325 new cases in Toronto, 215 in Peel Region, and 87 in York Region.

York Region returned to the province’s colour-coded system of pandemic restrictions on Monday, while a stay-at-home order remained in effect for Toronto, Peel, and North Bay.

York has long logged some of Ontario’s highest COVID-19 case counts, but the region’s chief medical officer of health requested that the government move it back to the tiered framework to bring it in line with most of the province’s other public health units.

The move means certain businesses that had been shuttered for weeks were allowed to open with restrictions in place.

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