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Clinics in Toronto hot spots run out of vaccines as cases continue to rise

·3 min read

TORONTO — Ontario’s plan to immunize all adults in COVID-19 hot spots hit another speed bump Wednesday when several clinics in Toronto ran out of vaccines and had to cancel appointments and close their doors.

Scarborough Health Network said its Centennial College and Centenary hospital clinics would remain closed until Monday, when a new shipment of vaccines is expected to arrive.

"Scarborough continues to struggle with the incomprehensible disparity in vaccine distribution for Canada’s most diverse community and one of Ontario’s most severe hot spots," said Maureen Adamson, the chair of the Scarborough Health Network's board of directors.

University Health Network said it had to suspend bookings for appointments for those aged 18 and older in three high-risk communities in downtown Toronto after more than 21,000 people registered for a vaccine.

A UHN spokeswoman said that if the health network had sufficient and reliable vaccine supply, its clinics could vaccinate 35,000 people per week.

"The supply must move from the federal government so that provinces can get on with vaccination," said Gillian Howard.

The provincial government blamed the shortages on a 10-day delay of a Moderna vaccine shipment.

"A 10-day delay doesn't sound like a long time, but when you've already booked appointments, when you've set up those vaccine clinics ... it is incredibly frustrating not only for the public health units ... but also for the citizens who were excited and wanting to get that vaccine," said Sylvia Jones, the province's solicitor general.

The Progressive Conservative government has faced criticism about lack of a clear plan to vaccinate people in hot spot areas and essential workers.

Premier Doug Ford announced last week that people aged 18 and older in hot spots would be eligible for a shot, but did not say how the process would unfold, leaving many eligible residents frustrated.

The province reported 4,156 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday - 1,254 of them in Toronto - and 28 deaths linked to the virus.

The recent surge in new cases - fuelled by the COVID-19 variants of concern - threatens to overwhelm the province's hospitals, which have implemented emergency measures to address the crunch for beds in intensive care units.

Scarborough Health Network and the University Health Network said they would reopen their clinics as soon as they receive more vaccines.

The networks said they are contacting everyone whose vaccination appointment was cancelled due to the supply shortage and will rebook appointments as soon as possible.

The clinics run by Scarborough Health Network were vaccinating 2,000 people per day. Those eligible included anyone over the age of 50, all Indigenous residents, health-care workers, chronic home-care clients, faith leaders, and people over 18 with high-risk health conditions.

"Scarborough is the backbone of Toronto," said Adamson. "Our people are the essential workers that keep Ontario running."

Adamson noted that the network's hospitals are seeing the highest rate of COVID-19 admissions throughout this pandemic and the positivity rate in Scarborough’s COVID assessment centres has reached 24 per cent.

The University Health Network said it expects a shipment of 5,000 doses in the next two weeks.

Ontario has received a total of 4,506,495 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine so far, and administered 3,310,157 doses - or 73.45 per cent of the supply.

The province has said the remaining doses are spoken for and will be administered in the coming days.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 14, 2021.

Shawn Jeffords and John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press