Ontario implementing flu immunization campaign, largest in province’s history

The Ontario government is investing $70 million into one of the “largest and most comprehensive” flu shot campaigns in the province’s history.

Through the program, the province intends to administer 5.1 million doses of flu vaccine to residents in Ontario. The intention is to reduce visits to hospitals, keeping resources open to deal with a second wave of COVID-19

“Never before has the flu shots been so critical,” Ford told reporters during Tuesday’s press briefing.

Health Minister Christine Elliot explained that the flu season presents a new challenge to Ontario’s response to future waves of COVID-19. “The flu shot provides the best defence and has proven to reduce emergency department visits and wait times, helping to preserve hospital capacity for any surges in COVID-19 patients. That is why we are investing almost $70 million to launch the largest and most comprehensive flu immunization campaign in Ontario’s history.”

Doug Ford and Christine Elliot
Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliot (right) at today’s press conference

The funds will be spent to implement the following measures:

  • Ordering 5.1 million flu doses (700,000 more than what was ordered last year), including 1.3 million high-dose vaccines reserved for vulnerable populations in long-term care homes, hospitals, and retirement homes.
  • Prioritizing the vaccine for vulnerable populations and offering high-dose vaccines for seniors to participating pharmacies.
  • $26.5 million investment in additional flu vaccine doses if required.
  • Launching a public education campaign on the importance of getting the flu shot.

Flu shots to be available in coming weeks

The flu shots will become available in the upcoming weeks at primary care providers, public health units, and participating pharmacies.

Elliot said the first shipment will arrive by the end of September. The shots will first be administered to vulnerable sectors of the population. Then they will be available to everyone a week later.

The project is the first part of a six-part fall preparedness plan called “Keeping Ontarians Safe: Preparing for Future Waves of COVID-19.” The key pillars of the plan include:

  • Maintaining strong public health measures including the continued expansion of testing and case in contact management.
  • Implementing the largest flu immunization campaign in Ontario’s history.
  • Quickly identifying, managing, and preventing COVID-19 outbreaks.
  • Accelerating efforts to reduce health service backlogs.
  • Preparing for surges in COVID-19 cases.
  • Recruiting, retaining, training, and supporting health care workers while also continuing to engage families and caregivers.

“Given the size and the scope of this plan, we will take the next few days to walk through it so each and every person understands how we are putting their health and safety first over the coming months. This is a plan that will ensure we can continue to count on our health care system when we need it most,” said Ford.

Elliot added that further details will be released in the coming days. “While our best defence, continues to be our everyday actions to stop the spread like physical distancing, face coverings, and staying home when ill even with minor symptoms. We want to be prepared for any scenario,” she said.

The Ontario Pharmacists Association said it is very pleased that pharmacy professionals will have a significant role in the Ontario government’s fall preparedness plan to protect Ontarians from flu and COVID-19. “The Ontario government’s decision to expand the high-dose flu vaccine program recognizes the high degree of accessibility of frontline pharmacy professionals, especially during the pandemic, as well as pharmacy’s dramatic success story in boosting immunization rates against influenza,” said Justin Bates, CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association.