Correction: A previous version of this article indicated Public Health Ontario was running the vaccine confidence line, but Public Health Ontario does not have a role in the phone line, or province's vaccine supply, distribution, certificate program or last mile strategy. We apologize for the error.
Public health officials in Ontario have turned their efforts to what they're calling the "last mile" of the COVID-19 vaccine roll out.
As of Sept. 14, 84.5 per cent of Ontarians eligible to receive a vaccine have had at least one dose, and 78.2 per cent are fully immunized.
The province's goal is to have 90 per cent of eligible Ontarians vaccinated.
Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's medical officer of health, said people are 24 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 and 43 times more likely to end up in intensive care unit when they are unvaccinated, compared to those who are vaccinated.
The final 15.5 per cent, however, is requiring a different approach than the mass immunization clinics that have been administering thousands of doses per day for several months.
Ontario's vaccine passport announcement made a week ago did prompt an increase in people booking first dose appointments. About 33 per cent of the vaccination appointments made last week were for first doses. Between Sept. 1 and 7, 103,000 first doses were administered, while there were 78,000 first doses given the week before.
To achieve the 90 per cent vaccine coverage rate, another 718,000 people will need a first dose of the vaccine and 1.5 million people will need a second dose.
The last mile is requiring "tailored strategies" according to provincial health officials. This approach includes the GO-VAXX bus travelling six days a week to malls, farmers' markets, community hubs, sporting events and post-secondary schools.
There are also school-based clinics running in health unit regions throughout Ontario with 550 such clinics planned or operational.
Last week, the province launched the Provincial Vaccine Confidence Line (1-833-943-3900), which can be used to book a vaccine, but it also was created to address what officials call "deep questions" surrounding the COVID-19 vaccines being used in Ontario.
The vaccine confidence line is staffed by a group of health specialists who are, according to the province "trained to have confidential, in-depth, health-related discussions."
To book a vaccine or to access information on COVID-19, there is now one streamlined number for the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre. It can be reached at 1-833-943-3900 seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. It's available in more than 300 languages.
Third doses expanded
Dr. Moore announced on Sept. 14 the province has now expanded the eligibility for third doses to include people who are at-risk because of certain medical conditions or situations.
Those eligible for a third dose of a vaccine now include:
- Those undergoing active treatment for solid tumours and hematologic malignancies
- Those who are in receipt of a solid-organ transplant and taking immunosuppressive therapy
- Those who are in receipt of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T-cell or hematopoietic stem cell transplant (within 2 years of transplantation or taking immunosuppression therapy)
- Those with moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency
- Stage 3 or advanced untreated HIV infection and those with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome
- Those undergoing active treatment with certain immunosuppressive therapies.
Third doses are also offered to residents living in long-term care homes and other high-risk congregate settings such as retirement homes and First Nations elder-care lodges.
The third doses will be arranged through a primary care provider, specialist, hospital program, or via the congregate setting in partnership with the regional health unit.