The head of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout says he hopes to vaccinate residents and staff at long-term care homes in hot spots ahead of the mid-January deadline, adding that distribution of the shots can only go as fast as the supply. 

Ret. Gen. Rick Hillier said the premier has asked the vaccination task force to complete vaccinations at 161 homes in the high-risk areas of Toronto, Windsor-Essex, Peel and York regions by Jan. 21.

“We believe we’re actually going to be completed before that, in part, because of the great work of people like right here,” said Hillier, as he visited St. Clair O’Connor Community Centre, a long-term care home in Toronto.

Hillier was at the home Wednesday to witness two residents get a shot of the Moderna vaccine. They are among the last of 2,500 residents in long-term care and retirement homes in East Toronto to receive the vaccine within the last four days.

“We’re going to beat that challenge date by a few days,” said Hillier. “That’s what our Moderna [vaccine] is reserved to do, and we are going to do all of those 161 homes, that’s a lot of homes to go into prior to the 21st of January.”

John Coburn, 84, and his wife, Beverley, 90, live at the home, which had a deadly COVID-19 outbreak in the spring. Both expressed relief while receiving the vaccination. 

“I think it’s really important. I’ve been waiting for it, because my husband and I hope to go on a cruise ... It’s pretty ridiculous to not get it when you can,” said Beverley. 

“Very happy. I was surprised when I saw that we were going to do it here,” added John.

Dr. Jeff Powis is the medical director of infection prevention and control at Michael Garron Hospital who oversaw the rollout of the vaccines at 22 at-risk facilities. He said part of the team’s success was setting an aggressive target. 

“We’ve been in the trenches with these homes for the last nine months to keep every resident safe from COVID-19, and so when we knew of this opportunity we had to get it done as quick as possible,” Powis said.

Hillier added that he wants the vaccine rollout to extend to other long-term care homes in other regions as soon as possible. He said he couldn’t give a date as to when all homes would be completed because he doesn’t know when some doses of the vaccine are arriving in Ontario. 

“Right now, we are facing a little bit of a conundrum where the vaccines that we have coming in are increasingly being taken over by the second shots that are needed to complete the vaccination program. And, therefore, we have a smaller bubble at the top where we have vaccines to start the new the programs.

“We are moving as fast as we have vaccines. We will run out of vaccines this coming week.”

Hiller said that Tuesday was the first day of the vaccination program which saw 10, 000 vaccinations distributed. He said all vaccines that were previously delivered will be used up by the end of this weekend. In fact, he said the shipment that arrived yesterday will be gone by later this week.

“Just think of that: 10, 000 needles into the arms of 10, 000 people who have been held hostage through that terrible virus. In part, because they are in places like this, and therefore can’t move and leave when the virus strikes.”

“We are rolling through the vaccines faster than we can get them.”