Three thousand doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in Ottawa over the weekend. Up to 1500 people were to receive the vaccinations from Tuesday at Ottawa Hospital’s Civic campus as part of the first “V-Day” for Canada.
At the time of publication, it was not yet known whether anybody from the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) area would be among the first to be vaccinated. But it was understood those vaccines would be issued to healthcare workers and caregivers working with vulnerable groups in long term care and retirement homes.
Ottawa’s hospital was chosen as it had the storage facilities needed to keep the Pfizer vaccine at the extremely cold temperature it required to remain viable. That vaccine, the first Health Canada had approved, needed to be stored at between -80 and -60 degrees.
EOHU Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis said the region was ready for the vaccine whenever they were given approval. While the region did not have facilities cold enough to store the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, he said the EOHU had purchased a refrigerator cold enough to store other vaccines awaiting approval. Moderna’s vaccine remained stable at -20 degrees, and was expected to be easier to use in a mass vaccination program once enough supplies arrived.
“We’ve been in touch with our Ottawa counterparts and we’re preparing ourselves for as soon as we get a vaccine, we’re all ready,” Dr. Roumeliotis said. “We will be working at the local level to concentrate on those vulnerable populations.”
Vulnerable populations included healthcare workers, caregivers and residents in long-term care and retirement homes in the region. Dr. Roumeliotis said the health unit had been working with paramedics and other partners to distribute the vaccines to those groups as soon as they became available.
A mass rollout of vaccines was not expected until March or April, when there was sufficient supply available. That program would be based on National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommendations, where priority would be given to certain age groups and occupations.
Dr. Roumeliotis said the rollout would eventually look similar to the annual flu vaccine program. « For the first couple of months it will be a staggered release, where we’ll have the prioritization right off the bat for our long term care and retirement residents and health care workers,” he said.
“Once we vaccinate the priority populations, we will then be trickling out next year, offering clinics within the communities to age groups based on recommendations.”