Queen’s Park and Ottawa are working closely to ensure that the possible COVID-19 vaccine is distributed efficiently and fairly, said Provincial Finance Minister Rod Phillips.
In a wide-ranging discussion with Star’s editorial board on Friday, the treasurer said that while the near-term outlook is bleak, with bigger locks to curb infections, the future looks brighter.
“There are positive signs. We need to have hope and optimism because as human beings we need it, ”said Phillips, noting that the Progressive Conservative government is basing its vision on hard scientific evidence.
“This is an area where the… collaboration with the federal government is very high,” he said of the logistical challenges of shipping and storing vaccine doses safely.
“This will hopefully be the story of 2021… and we want to make sure that it works well in Ontario and that people are working on logistics with the federal government.
But Phillips, who was at The Star to promote his record $ 187 billion budget filed last week, admitted there will be challenges even when a vaccine is widely available.
“These are very complicated scientific choices … getting people to accept and take the vaccine,” said the finance minister, who has spent $ 45 billion over three years to spend on COVID-19.
Philips was asked if he thought the land border between Canada and the United States, which has been closed since March 20, could reopen before there is a vaccine. “I don’t think the border can reopen at the levels of the cases we’re seeing in the United States,” he said. “But of course it’s up to the federal government.”
The current border restrictions, which are in place until November 21, are expected to be extended, as COVID-19 cases in the United States continue to rise at much higher rates than in Canada.
Some 243,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus compared to less than 11,000 Canadians – that’s 22 times the deaths in a country with only eight times the population.
The treasurer said that despite US challenges to contain COVID-19, in terms of vaccine, “they appear to be reasonably organized on this front.”
And “while we naturally should want Ontario to be on the front line, we should really want the United States to do a really good job of distributing the vaccine,” Phillips said, “because we need that connectivity. with the North American economy earlier. that later. So it’s not just about us. These are us and the rest of Canada and our biggest trading partner.
The office of Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province was closely monitoring vaccine developments.
“The news regarding the Pfizer vaccine is very encouraging,” Elliott officials said, referring to the pharmaceutical giant’s preliminary results of up to 90% immunity.
“At the same time, it’s important to remember that a vaccine is still months away and everyone should continue to follow public health advice,” the office added, referring to the need to wear a mask indoors in public places or in crowds, wash hands and maintain a safe physical distance of two meters.
“The federal government has put in place several advance purchase agreements with companies, including Pfizer, for COVID-19 vaccine doses for Canada,” he continued.
But the Public Health Agency of Canada will take the lead in getting these doses to the provinces and territories.
“We are working to make sure Ontario is ready for a COVID-19 vaccine and that we have a fair and equitable response.
Although issues such as the storage of temperature sensitive serum have yet to be resolved, Ontario is expected to use a similar distribution system that has been used for years with the influenza vaccine, which is available in hundreds of pharmacies across the province.
So far this year, pharmacies across Ontario have administered more than one million flu shots, up from 250,000 in 2019.
The provincial health ministry, which regularly returns unused influenza vaccine doses because it buys more than it needs, ordered 5.1 million vaccines this year, 700,000 more than usual. In addition, $ 28 million has been set aside to purchase more.
COVID-19 tests are also available at many drugstores, including some Shoppers Drug Mart and Rexall outlets and some independent stores.