Quebec announced on Thursday that it would drop the eligibility threshold to the age of 18 starting on May 14, while Ontario said it would follow suit in the week beginning May 24.
“The light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter every day,” Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said as she unveiled a revised vaccination plan that includes sending half of the province’s supply to the hardest-hit neighbourhoods for two weeks in May.
A deluge of federally procured Pfizer-BioNTech shots is scheduled to pour into the country next month. Ottawa is expecting two million doses a week from Pfizer in May, twice the amount the vaccine-maker shipped to Canada in April. Deliveries from Moderna have been less reliable, but the government is expecting shipments from the company to average out to about one million doses per week starting the week of May 10. Major-General Dany Fortin, who oversees the federal government’s vaccination rollout, said on Thursday that Ottawa is still finalizing delivery details.
The increase in doses should allow the other provinces to ramp up inoculations as well. British Columbia and the Atlantic provinces have said they plan to offer shots to the youngest adults in June, but the others have yet to say precisely when they will do so.
Despite the encouraging vaccine news, experts and public-health officials in Quebec and Ontario warned that coronavirus infection rates are still too high and hospitals under too much strain to loosen pandemic-control measures.
“It’s tempting to relax when the numbers start to turn your way,” said Adalsteinn (Steini) Brown, head of the University of Toronto’s school of public health and co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table. “That will not work. ... We cannot afford a fourth wave.”
Dr. Brown presented new modelling on Thursday that predicted a rebound in cases if the Ontario government’s stay-at-home order is allowed to expire as scheduled on May 20, and if more steps aren’t taken to curb transmission among essential workers.
The projections, while showing new infections declining over the next month, say the daily case count could remain above 2,000. And the modelling warned that the tally could start to rise again to crest past 4,000 in July. Ontario recorded 3,871 new cases on Thursday, up from the day before, but the seven-day average of new cases has been falling slowly since Premier Doug Ford locked the province down again earlier this month.
In Quebec, Health Minister Christian Dubé imposed new restrictions on the province’s Bas-Saint-Laurent region on the south shore of the Saint Lawrence River. But he also predicted better days ahead.
The province’s public health institute has said the faster pace of vaccinations should lead to a rapid drop in new infections by mid-May or early June.
“If we keep the virus under control,” Mr. Dubé said, “victory is within reach for all of us.”
Since December, Canada has received almost 15 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. That same amount will be delivered in the next five weeks, Maj.-Gen. Fortin said in Ottawa on Thursday.
“Provinces are now able to plan better, with more certainty, with more confidence in their immunization plans,” he said.
More than 13 million doses have already been administered across Canada, Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Howard Njoo said.
Starting on Friday, Quebec will open appointments to younger populations, beginning with people between the ages of 50 and 59, and ending with those between 18 and 24 on May 14. Each new age group will have two or three days to book appointments before a younger group is added.
In Ontario, bookings will open to everyone 55 and older on Friday. The age limit will drop by a decade each week until the week of May 24, when all adults will be able to visit the provincial booking site and schedule an appointment for their first dose of vaccine.
Ontario will also open the provincial booking system next week to everyone over the age of 18 in 114 hot-spot areas denoted by the first three characters of a postal code. All adults in those areas have been eligible for a few weeks, but could access shots only through mobile and pop-up clinics targeted at the highest-risk communities, which led to confusion and predawn lines at some sites in Toronto.
Ms. Elliott said on Thursday that her government would allocate 50 per cent of vaccines to the same hot spots for two weeks in May, after which the province would revert to divvying up doses on a per-capita basis.
The plan does not go as far as the science table recommended in a brief released last week that said more infections, hospital admissions and deaths could be averted if 50 per cent of vaccines were allocated for four weeks to a narrower subset of hot spots most in need.
“It’s a step, clearly, in the right direction,” said Peter Juni, scientific director of the science table and a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Toronto. “But we need to be aware that if we want to have the full benefit of an accelerated hot spot strategy, we would want to focus more ... on the highest-risk neigbourhoods.”
Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s director of public health, called the past four months of vaccine scarcity a “nightmare” that forced officials to choose who would get a potentially life-saving shot first.
“Now we can say I’ve got a dream, and the dream is coming true,” he said.
With reports from Jeff Gray and The Canadian Press
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