AstraZeneca doses arrive for vaccination

Torrent of good news has Ontario set for massive increase in vaccinations

The Ontario government announced on Friday that the stay-at-home order will expire on Monday, March 8 at 12:01 a.m. for Toronto, Peel, and North Bay Parry Sound, with these regions transitioning back to Ontario’s colour-coded COVID-19 response framework.

North Bay Parry Sound District will be returning to the Red-Control zone (with the second highest-restrictions) while Toronto and Peel will return to the Grey-Lockdown level (with the most stringent restrictions).

In addition, seven public health regions will be moving to different levels. Peterborough Public Health, Public Health Sudbury and Districts, and Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit will move into the Red-Control zone. Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit, and Timiskaming Health Unit will move to the Orange-Restrict zone. Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit, and Renfrew County and District Health Unit will move to the Yellow-Protect zone.

While all regions have now returned to the framework, health officials are reminding Ontarians to remain vigilant to help prevent any further increases in transmission.

“The best defense against the virus and all of its variants of concern remains continuing to stay at home, avoiding social gatherings, only travelling outside of your community for essential purposes, and limiting close contacts to your household or those you live with,” said Dr. David Williams, chief medical officer of health, in a statement.

Meanwhile, Health Canada has approved the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine (owned by Johnson & Johnson) — it’s the fourth vaccine to be approved in Canada, alongside Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada’s chief medical officer, made the announcement at a press briefing on Friday morning, noting that the single-dose vaccine is authorized for use in people over 18, although clinical trials are underway to see if it will be safe for children.

The vaccine is 66 per cent effective against COVID-19.

Johnson & Johnson said last Friday that, in a study based on 43,783 participants accruing 468 symptomatic cases of COVID-19, among all participants from different geographies and including those infected with an emerging viral variant — the vaccine candidate was 66 per cent effective overall in preventing moderate to severe COVID-19, 28 days after vaccination.

The onset of protection was observed as early as day 14. The level of protection against moderate to severe COVID-19 infection was 72 per cent in the United States, 66 per cent in Latin America, and 57 per cent in South Africa, 28 days post-vaccination.

“While each of the vaccines that Health Canada has authorized has different efficacy numbers, the reality is that you will have a greatly reduced chance of getting COVID-19,” Sharma said at the press briefing.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is compatible with standard vaccine storage and distribution channels. It is estimated to remain stable for two years at –20°C, and a maximum of three months at routine refrigeration at temperatures of 2 to 8°C.

Sharma said that the federal government has a deal in place for at least 10 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, expected before the end of September, with the option to purchase 28 million more.

More on the vaccine front. On Wednesday, it was announced that Ontario is receiving an estimated 190,000 doses of the newly approved AstraZeneca vaccine in March. Approximately 114,000 of those does will have an expiration date of April 2.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended on Tuesday that it not be administered to people 65 years of age or older, as there is limited data on how well the vaccine will work in older populations.

In a press briefing on Friday afternoon, retired general Rick Hillier, who is overseeing the COVID-19 vaccination rollout in Ontario, reiterated that the AstraZeneca vaccine will be administered to people between the ages of 60 and 64 through a variety of pathways, including pharmacists, mobile clinics, and health care practitioners.

Hillier noted that the government’s aim is for every eligible adult, who wants to be vaccinated, to have their first needle by the first day of summer. As part of the province’s rapid vaccine acceleration rollout, an expected 133 mass vaccination clinics will begin operating in 26 of 34 health units by the end of the month.

The news comes as Ontario reported 1,250 cases of COVID-19 on Friday, with over 64,700 tests complete. The new numbers include 337 new cases in Toronto, 167 in Peel, and 129 in York Region.

As of Friday morning, more than 2,225,278 doses of approved COVID-19 vaccines have been administered across Canada, more than 1,665,451 Canadians have received at least one dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine and 559,827 Canadians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two doses, a number of weeks apart, for full efficacy).

In Ontario, as of 8 p.m. Thursday, 820,714 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered across Ontario; this includes 269,063 Ontarians who have been fully vaccinated.

There is no data on the total number of doses administered in the City of Toronto, but the city has identified approximately 353 locations across Toronto to administer the COVID-19 vaccine, based on the vaccine supply.

Nine city-operated immunization clinics are scheduled to open on or before April 1, to operate seven days per week, nine hours per day. The city estimates that more than 120,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses will be administered each week through the city-operated clinics.

Still, some are worried that Toronto hasn’t been getting its fair share of vaccines. In a Q&A session with CP24, one viewer asked Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, why she hasn’t been advocating for Toronto to get a larger portion of vaccines so small businesses can get open faster and stay open.

Dr. de Villa responded that her team at Toronto Public Health has been in regular conversations with their provincial counterparts, and they have spoken about different ways of distributing and allocating vaccines “in order to get us together collectively as a province to our desired outcome.”

“One, limiting the negative impact of COVID-19 and two, really getting as much vaccine as possible into as many arms as possible. We have advocated for a greater proportion of doses to come to Toronto, given that we were so heavily impacted,” she said, adding that Toronto was one of the earliest recipients of the vaccine doses, particularly in long-term care and retirement homes.

Click here for more up-to-date COVID news.

Article exclusive to TRNTO