Ontario appoints head of Ornge Air Ambulance to vaccine task force lead in Phase 2

Ontario Premier Doug Ford watches a health-care worker prepare a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

The Ontario government has appointed the head of the province's air ambulance service as the new task force head for Phase 2 of its COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, a spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said Dr. Homer Tien, a trauma surgeon and the president and CEO of Ornge Air Ambulance, will serve as the operational lead of the vaccine distribution task force as the province moves into Phase 2.

"Dr. Tien has been part of the Task Force since it was established and has worked closely with the province on leading Operation Remote Immunity. Operation Remote Immunity was instrumental in delivering and administering vaccines to 31 remote fly-in First Nation communities in northern Ontario plus Moosonee," the statement said.

Tien follows in the footsteps of retired Gen. Rick Hillier, who led the task force's first phase. 

"General Hillier was tasked with overseeing the development of Ontario’s vaccine rollout plan and associated infrastructure. The plan and infrastructure are now in place, and the province is administering more and more vaccines each day. We are grateful for his leadership and guidance in getting us this far," the statement reads.

Phase 2 will prioritize frontline workers, the spokesperson said.

According to the provincial government, Phase 2 will run from April through June, and will focus on high-risk congregate settings such as shelters and community living, individuals with high-risk chronic conditions and their caregivers, those who cannot work from home and other at-risk populations.

There have been growing calls since Ontario announced its latest provincewide shutdown to ensure that essential workers who cannot remain home receive vaccines.

According to the province, essential workers to be prioritized in Phase 2 include:

  • Elementary and secondary school staff
  • Police, fire, compliance, funeral, special constables and other workers responding to critical events
  • Childcare and licenced foster care workers
  • Food manufacturing workers
  • Agriculture and farm workers
  • High-risk and critical retail workers in grocery stores and pharmacies
  • Remaining manufacturing labourers
  • Social workers, including youth justice
  • Courts and justice system workers, including probation and parole
  • Lower-risk retail workers (wholesalers, general goods)
  • Transportation, warehousing and distribution
  • Energy, telecom (data and voice), water and wastewater management
  • Financial services
  • Waste management
  • Mining, oil and gas workers

A timeline released by the province in early March suggested that frontline workers who cannot work from home would begin receiving vaccines in June, but a doctor on the vaccine distribution task force told CTV News the timelines are subject to change.

“Don't focus on the June in there because there's a big asterisk underneath there that says, this can be shifted based on vaccine supply,” Dr. Isaac Bogoch told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Friday.

As of March 31, Ontario had received 2,825,795 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, according to Health Canada. The province says it has administered 2,424,063 doses across Ontario as of 8 p.m. Friday. The government is not providing an updated figure Sunday because of the Easter holiday.

Forecasts from Health Canada show Ontario will receive 1.5 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, 751,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine and another 122,900 doses of the AstaZeneca vaccine during the month of April. 

--With files from CTVNews.ca's Brooke Taylor.