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Toronto starts COVID-19 vaccinations for some police officers

·3 min read

Toronto began vaccinating members of its police force against COVID-19 on Monday after the province identified front-line officers as a priority group.

Constables and sergeants who respond to emergency calls where medical assistance may be required are now included in the ongoing first phase of Ontario's vaccine rollout, a spokeswoman for the force said.

"It is approximately 2,250 front-line members who were moved into the current phase by the province," said Connie Osborne.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said some police officers are involved frequently in calls that require enforcing COVID-19 restrictions and performing CPR.

"You have a certain number of them that are daily, in many respects, involved in that kind of a call, similar to the way firefighters are and similar to the way, obviously, the paramedics are," said Tory.

"They're simply medical first responders."

A day earlier, the city said the province expanded the first phase of its vaccination drive to include residents experiencing homelessness.

The identification of both police officers and the homeless as priority groups came amid ongoing criticism of Ontario's vaccine rollout, which some have said has been too slow and lacking in details.

A spokesman for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said the first phase of Ontario's vaccine rollout includes front-line personnel who provide health-care services, which risks exposure to COVID-19.

Stephen Warner said that include paramedics, front-line police officers and firefighters who respond to medical calls.

"Only active duty front-line police officers who as part of their duties regularly provide emergency medical care are included in Phase 1," he said in a statement. "Police services personnel who do not respond to medical calls for service as part of their routine duties do not qualify under Phase 1."

Last week, the province said Ontarians aged 80 and older will start receiving COVID-19 vaccines in the third week of March, although it noted that the vaccine rollout will look different in each of its 34 public health units.

The government also said essential workers will likely begin getting their shots in May if supply allows, but noted it was still deciding who will be in that group.

Toronto's fire chief, who leads the city's COVID-19 response, said Monday that the city's plan to vaccinate those aged 80 and older depends on supply.

"We are limited right now and controlled by the availability of vaccine," said Matthew Pegg.

In neighbouring York Region, residents aged 80 and older started getting their COVID-19 vaccinations on Monday after the region opened up its own booking system.

Toronto's top doctor said her city had a large number of people in the highest priority groups that it had to vaccinate before targeting those aged 80 and older in the general population.

"Because we are such a large city, we have many health-care institutions," said Dr. Eileen De Villa.

"We have a significant number of people to actually cover as part of the provincial prioritization framework."

Ontario reported 1,023 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, with 280 of those in Toronto.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Mar. 1, 2021.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Denise Paglinawan, The Canadian Press