Ontario unveiled plans to expand its COVID-19 vaccination rollout to more target groups on Sunday ahead of an expected boost in nationwide shipments of the Pfizer vaccine that could lend ammunition to the provinces' fights against the spread of contagious variants.
The Ontario government reported Sunday that all long-term care residents across the province had been "given an opportunity" for a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
The province's vaccine taskforce told regional public health officers in a memo that it is expanding its focus in the coming weeks, with staff and essential caregivers in long-term care homes, top priority health-care workers and Indigenous adults in remote and higher risk communities among those first in line for the vaccine.
Delays in vaccine shipments forced the province to concentrate its inoculation efforts on long-term care residents in recent weeks, but the memo says the province expects those deliveries to increase again, allowing it to expand the scope of its vaccination drive.
"Given the expected gradual increase in Ontario’s vaccine supply, the next target groups within the Phase One priority populations have been identified for vaccination," the memo read.
Once those priority groups have been addressed, the province said seniors 80 or older, adults receiving chronic home care and all Indigenous adults will be next in line for a vaccine. The memo said those populations may start receiving their shots "when all reasonable steps have been taken to complete first-dose vaccinations" for the top priority groups.
Vaccine deliveries are expected to ramp up across the country this week, with Pfizer-BioNTech slated to deliver its biggest shipment to date.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has said more than 335,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be delivered in the coming days following a weeks-long slowdown that forced provinces to curtail their immunization efforts.
The vaccines are due to land as provinces hoping to protect their vulnerable populations from more contagious COVID-19 variants, which threaten to reverse positive trends in cases in recent weeks.
Officials in both Ontario and Quebec expressed concern over variants on Sunday, even as their provinces reported fewer than 1,000 new cases each.
The North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit became the latest to confirm a case of the variant first discovered in South Africa, which is one of three "variants of concern" that has been detected in the province.
A total of 20 confirmed COVID-19 variant cases had been reported in the region as of Saturday, but the health unit said only one of those has so far been verified as the South Africa-based variant.
"We need to stop the spread of COVID-19 variants of concern, and if we don’t act now, it could be devastating for the entire district,” regional Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jim Chirico said in a statement.
On Saturday, officials announced that another variant, which was first detected in the U.K., has been found in all 10 Canadian provinces.
Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube also expressed concern about variants, even as his province continued to report encouraging numbers.
While deaths and hospitalizations have declined and new cases have stabilized over the last two weeks, "the threat of variants is concerning, we must continue to limit contacts," he wrote on Twitter.
The province logged 910 new COVID-19 infections on Sunday along with 15 new virus-related deaths.
Meanwhile, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador both saw a drop in the number of new cases reported after recent surges.
Newfoundland and Labrador reported 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, while New Brunswick recorded two, compared to 16 on Saturday.
Farther west, Manitoba reported 79 additional cases as well as five new deaths among COVID-19 patients.
Saskatchewan counted 161 new cases of the virus, while Alberta logged 284, as well as five added deaths.
Nunavut added three new cases to its overall tally, all in the community of Arviat that's the scene of the territory's only active infections
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 14, 2021.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press