All COVID-19 vaccine clinics in Ontario set to reopen after province comes under fire over holiday closures

COVID-19 vaccinations in Ontario are expected to return to full operations on Tuesday after the province came under fire for the program being scaled down over the holidays. 

The province says five vaccination clinics were open on Sunday, 10 were back in action Monday, and all of them are set to resume immunizations today.

Critics have taken issue with the pause, saying the province can’t afford to delay immunizations.

But in an interview with CBC Toronto on Monday, Retired Gen. Rick Hillier, chair of the province’s COVID-19 task force, said “we’re exactly where we planned to be.”

“I’m not in a race against other provinces; what we are in is a race to make sure the people of Ontario are getting this vaccine,” he said. 

“We learn as we go and we increase our speed.”

The latest numbers released show that 13,200 shots have been administered in Ontario since the province received its first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine mid-month, far behind the pace of other provinces. 

Asked for a justification for the closures, Hillier said it was based on advice that front-line workers needed a break. 

“They’ve been working under terrible stress, terrible hours, under terrible conditions oftentimes for 10 months. And they had a little time planned with their supervisors for their time off at Christmas,” he said. 

Ontario changes COVID-19 vaccination plans

This comes after Ontario announced on Monday that it’s changing its vaccination plans following a growing consensus against reserving doses and instead vaccinating as many people as possible. 

According to the province, clinical guidance recommended using half the available vaccine supplies while reserving a second dose in the event of supply chain disruptions during the initial rollouts in Toronto and Ottawa. 

But in a statement issued Monday, Alexandra Hilkene, spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott, said the province is scrapping that plan, instead counting on confirmed shipments of the vaccine set to arrive in the coming weeks. 

“We anticipate getting through the 90,000 doses at our 19 active hospital sites in the next several days as we await future shipments from the federal government,” Hilkene said in the statement. 

WATCH | Chair of Ontario’s vaccine task force speaks on holiday stoppage

Under fire for pausing Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine program over the holidays, CBC Toronto’s Chris Glover asks the chair of the province’s vaccine task force to justify the holiday stoppage. 8:33

The storage requirements for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine mean it will be used primarily in hospitals, while the more recently approved Moderna vaccine will go to long-term care homes, congregate settings and more rural communities.

Hillier said the Moderna shipment to Ontario is expected by the end of December, and the vaccine will be rolled out within less than a week later. 

The province did not release its daily tally of new COVID-19 cases and deaths on Monday, meaning today’s numbers will cover two days.

On Sunday, the province recorded 2,005 new infections and 18 new deaths related to the novel coronavirus.

Hillier is expected to provide an update to the province’s vaccination rollout at 11 a.m. ET. You can watch that live in this story. 

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, is also expected to provide an update on the pandemic this afternoon.

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