Ontario to Announce Vaccine Task Force Friday, Group Will Plan Rollout

Ontario to Announce Vaccine Task Force Friday, Group Will Plan Rollout
Ontario Premier Doug Ford and former head of the Canadian Armed Forces Gen. Rick Hillier look over a map in the Premier's office at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on Nov. 27, 2020. (The Canadian Press/Frank Gunn)
The Canadian Press

TORONTO—Ontario will unveil its COVID-19 vaccine task force on Friday, said Premier Doug Ford, pledging that the province will be ready to distribute the doses whenever they arrive.

Under increasing pressure to reveal details of the vaccination plan, Ford said Thursday that the task force is being finalized. It will include medical, information technology, and logistics experts, as well as a bioethicist, the government said.

"This task force, our experts, will take a hard close look at our extensive planning," he said. "They will stress test and make sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ontario is ready."

In Ottawa, Maj. Gen. Dany Fortin, who is leading the military's role in the vaccine distribution process, said Thursday that Pfizer will ship its vaccine directly to provinces and territories. Fortin said 14 Pfizer delivery points will be ready to receive vaccines by Dec. 14, with doses expected to arrive in January.

Ford said there are many unanswered questions about the vaccine's arrival, which makes planning a challenge.

"What I can guarantee the people of Ontario is as sure as I'm standing here we will be ready," he said. "We're ready to organize as soon as they land on our soil. They'll be shipped out right across the province."

Last week, the province announced retired Gen. Rick Hillier will lead the task force.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said the group will recommend who should receive first access to the vaccine.

Elliott said she believes front-line health-care workers and long-term care residents will be the first to receive the vaccine.

"They'll be making recommendations to us as a government about who they think should be the next in line, because this is a program that's going to take a number of months to fully unroll," she said.

Elliott has previously said the Ontario will receive 1.6 million doses of Pfizer's new vaccine and 800,000 doses of Moderna's vaccine in early 2021, although federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said such details were still in the works.

The Ford government has been criticized by opposition leaders for not publicly releasing the names of the task force members or more details of the vaccination plan so far.

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner accused Ford of "teasing" the task force unveil but not actually offering any substantive update on his vaccine rollout.

"COVID response is not a game show," Schreiner said in a statement. "This government continues to scramble to make decisions while Ontarians continue to tune in every day looking for guidance, looking for answers and not getting them."

NDP deputy leader Sara Singh said she thinks people are concerned by the lack of details.

"All we see is scrambling at the last minute trying to figure this out when other provinces and other countries have a real plan in place," she said.

Liberal House Leader John Fraser urged the government to give Hillier the necessary resources to distribute the vaccine and communicate the plan to the public clearly.

"If you're going to get a general, let people know who the army is who's helping him," he said.

Meanwhile, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health warned Thursday that he is recommending to the government that stricter COVID-19 restrictions be imposed on some regions.

Dr. David Williams would not say which regions could face the new restrictions that could be announced Friday.

Williams said cases continue to increase across the province and regions that had previously not been deeply affected by the pandemic are now feeling the impact of the second wave.

"We see this ripple effect going out to the wider sector of the province, even in the far north. And so no part of the province is distinctly removed from this challenge," Williams said.

Ontario reported 1,824 new cases of COVID-19 on Dec. 3, and 14 new deaths due to the virus.

By Shawn Jeffords