Ontario government to unveil COVID-19 vaccination task force, strategy Friday

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott and Rick Hillier, who is overseeing the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, participate in a meeting at McKesson Canada in Toronto on Tuesday December 1, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

The Ford government is set to unveil its COVID-19 vaccination task force on Friday as several vaccines are pending approval from Health Canada.

During his daily press briefing on Thursday, Premier Doug Ford said that members of the task force along with their plan to distribute the vaccine will be revealed tomorrow.

“This task force, our experts, will take a hard, close look at our extensive planning. It will stress test to make sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ontario will be ready,” Ford said.

Last week, Ford announced that the vaccination task force will be led by retired Canadian Gen. Rick Hillier.

Hillier served as Chief of the Defence Staff of the Canadian Armed Forces between 2005 and 2008.

Ford has said that “we need the discipline that only a general can bring to this task” when explaining why Hillier was named for the job.

“Minister of health, Solicitor Jones, and their teams have been working on this for months. When I first met Gen. Hillier he had an opportunity to sit down with those teams and he was amazed by how much work they’ve been doing,” Ford said on Thursday.

Health Minister Christine Elliott, who joined Ford at Thursday’s press conference, said the task force includes a variety of medical professionals and experts.

“We have medical experts, we have IT experts, we have people that are involved with communications, dealing with logistics in a military manner in addition to Gen. Hillier,” Elliott said.

“There’s also a bioethicist who’s joining the group who’s going to help to make decisions about who is going to receive the vaccination after we get through dealing with people in long-term care homes and our frontline healthcare staff.”

The task force is responsible for overseeing the distribution of the vaccines once they are approved by Health Canada.

“They’ll be making recommendations to us as a government about who they think should be next in line [to receive the vaccine] because this is a program that’s going to take a number of months to fully unroll,”Elliott said.

“We’ve heard that there will be very large shipments coming in. There will be shipments coming in periodically and then we have to make sure that the appropriate people are vaccinated,” she added.

Alberta announced its COVID-19 vaccination task force on Wednesday and when Ford was asked if there is a delay in unveiling Ontario’s plan he said “absolutely not.”

Elliott added that the government is finalizing details before publicly announcing the task force.

“We're just dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s on some of the documentation for them but that will be ready by tomorrow because I know that people in Ontario want to know who’s going to be on this task force and what their goal will be,” Elliott said.

As for when Ontario can expect shipments of the vaccine, Ford said the government is waiting to hear from Ottawa on an exact date and the amount of doses the province will receive.

READ MORE: First COVID-19 vaccines coming early 2021 in Ontario but supply will be 'very limited,' Ford says

Earlier on Thursday during a press conference held by federal health officials, Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada's deputy chief public health officer, said supply will initially be limited to about three million people in the country.

Chief medical adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma said Health Canada officials are days away from approving American drugmaker Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, as final documents are expected Friday.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said most Canadians could be inoculated by September 2021.

With files from The Canadian Press