COVID-19: Toronto working on plan to provide vaccine to people in high-risk workplaces

WATCH ABOVE: As provincewide restrictions have once again been imposed, the number of municipal leaders and doctors calling for a change to the immunization strategy is growing. Many argue essential workers should be vaccinated soon to prevent further outbreaks both in the workplace and in the community. Matthew Bingley reports.

Toronto is planning to bring the COVID-19 vaccine to high-risk workplaces in an effort to stop the spread of the virus, the city’s mayor said Monday as pressure mounted on the province to vaccinate essential workers.

Mayor John Tory said the city is currently developing the details of the plan, which will involve mobile vaccination units that are already being used in some hot spot neighbourhoods.

Tory stressed that the plan is contingent on the availability of vaccine supply in the coming weeks and could not immediately say when it would launch.

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“We hope to be able to take it to workplaces … where we know there’s a higher risk just given all the circumstances, and to other areas where we know people are more vulnerable,” Tory said. “We’re working very hard on plans to do that.”

Ontario’s vaccine rollout began in December and focused initially on immunizing some of the province’s oldest residents in long-term care and health-care workers.

In recent months, it has shifted in a descending order through the oldest age groups in the province, with Toronto now starting to give the shot to people 60 years and older at its six mass vaccination sites.

But increasingly, experts in the health-care sector say essential workers who cannot work from home and often cannot self-isolate if they contract the illness should be prioritized for the shot.

ICU doctors have said many of the patients they’re treating these days are essential workers who got infected in the workplace.

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The province said 494 patients were in intensive care because of COVID-19 and 293 on a ventilator – 44 new patients were admitted in ICUs on Sunday.

The head of the Ontario Hospital Association said the province has set another record for intensive care unit occupancy.

Anthony Dale said hospitals also plan to transfer 88 patients from hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area with high occupancy pressures to help address capacity issues.

“These hospitals need ‘urgent relief’ to ensure equitable access to life saving critical care services for these very sick patients,” Dale said Monday.

Tory also urged the province to revisit requests to fund paid sick days for workers.

The Ontario government has said that it will not duplicate the paid sick leave program run by the federal government.

“If paid sick days time hadn’t come before this … then the time has certainly come now when we’re in the third wave, and it is taking an even worse toll, it would seem, in terms of ICU occupancy, and hospital overload,” Tory said.

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Toronto’s top doctor said workers need both targeted vaccination clinics and paid sick days as protections against the virus.

Dr. Eileen da Villa also called the rising COVID-19 case rates in the city “horrific”, stressing that the daily numbers are headed in the wrong direction.

“We need both the protections for workers for paid sick leave so that they can take the right action when they feel unwell without having to worry for their family’s welfare,” she said. “And of course, we need vaccine.”

A spokeswoman for Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said the provinces’ vaccine rollout is in alignment with the recommendations of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

“Ontario’s vaccine distribution plan is focused on vaccinating populations based on age and risk,” Alexandra Hilkene said in a statement. “This approach is designed to save lives, protect those at risk of serious illness and to stop the virus from spreading.”

The province will vaccinate essential workers as part of Phase 2 of its vaccine rollout, which is scheduled to begin soon.

“We are committed to vaccinating everyone in Ontario as quickly as possible, based on the supply we receive from the federal government,” Hilkene said.

Ontario reported nearly 6,000 new COVID-19 cases over a two-day span – 2,938 new cases on Monday and 3,041 cases on Sunday – and 22 deaths.

There were 942 people hospitalized with the virus during the same period, though the Ministry of Health noted that 10 per cent of Ontario’s hospitals do not submit data on weekends.

Ontario said 121,577 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were administered since the last report on Saturday, bringing the total number of inoculations so far to 2,545,640.

-With files from Denise Paglinawan.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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