TORONTO — Refocusing Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout on long-term care residents would prevent 115 deaths and hundreds more cases by the end of March, according to projections from a team of experts advising the government on the pandemic.

The report predicted that giving a first dose to all long-term care residents by Jan. 31 would save lives, and speeding up the rollout would be even more effective.

It concluded the January date would prevent 600 people from becoming infected, compared with the government’s current plan to vaccinate all long-term care residents by Feb. 15. 

The Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table made the forecasts in the report published Thursday by modelling best and worst outcomes from three vaccine rollout scenarios up to March 31.

It also looked at the potential impact if all residents had been vaccinated by Jan. 21, finding in a best-case scenario, hundreds of lives could potentially have been saved before March 31.

The report said long-term care residents should be prioritized if vaccine supply issues arise.

“If vaccine supply is limited, the early provision of first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to (long-term care) home residents is likely to be more beneficial than the on-schedule provision of second doses to health care workers outside of LTC homes,” the report said.

Asked whether the province would adjust its rollout plan based on the findings, a spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott said the schedule depends on supply. 

“We continue to vaccinate long-term care home residents as quickly as we receive vaccines from the federal government,” Alexandra Hilkene said in a statement. 

Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton’s office directed questions to the health ministry.

Liberal long-term care critic John Fraser issued a statement on the report, criticizing the Progressive Conservative government’s vaccine rollout to seniors in care as too slow. 

“We are failing residents in long-term care and the government’s February 15 vaccination target is simply not good enough. It will cost lives,” Fraser said. 

As of Friday, 3,298 long-term care residents had died from COVID-19, and 13,746 had tested positive for the illness, according to government figures. Forty-two deaths were reported between Thursday and Friday.

Thursday’s report noted the “disproportionately high rates” of COVID-19 infections and deaths among nursing home residents in Ontario.

Based on figures as of Jan. 17, long-term care residents accounted for more than 59 per cent of Ontario’s total deaths from COVID-19. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2021. 

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

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