Canada’s first COVID-19 vaccine given to Toronto health-care worker

TORONTO — A personal support worker from a Toronto nursing home received Canada’s first COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, kicking off what will be a massive national immunization campaign.

Anita Quidangen, a long-time employee of the Rekai Centre, wore a mask and scrubs as she received the first dose at a facility run by the University Health Network.

She was among a group of five workers from the nursing home who were given the first few shots of the vaccine, which is being administered by the hospital network in Toronto.

“I’m excited … to be the first person to get the vaccine,” she said, acknowledging the pandemic has been difficult.

Quidangen received the vaccine to applause from hospital staff gathered nearby. Cheers erupted as she bumped elbows with hospital executives moments later.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford praised the workers who got the shot for their dedication to their jobs and called it a historic day.

“I would especially like to recognize Anita Quidangen, the first person in Ontario and Canada to receive the shot,” he said.

“This is a watershed moment – the beginning of the end of this terrible pandemic.”

Ford noted, however, that residents still needed to stay vigilant against the virus as the vaccine rolls out.

“The light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter every day,” he said. “But we must remain on our guard.”

The immunizations in Toronto come shortly before Quebec expects to administer its first doses of the vaccine to long-term care home residents in Montreal.

In Ontario, 6,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine arrived on Sunday. The government plans to give them to approximately 2,500 health-care workers.

Half the shots will be administered this week and the other half will be intentionally held back to give the same workers a required second dose 21 days later.

The vaccines in Toronto were given at the Michener Institute, which is run by the University Health Network.

The president of the network, Kevin Smith, called the administration of the first vaccines a victory for science.

“Today, really, we turned the corner,” Smith said. “I like to say this is the shot that will be heard around the world.”

Ontario has said health-care workers, long-term care residents, and their caregivers will be among the first to receive the vaccine.

Adults in Indigenous communities, residents of retirement homes, and recipients of chronic home health-care will also be priority groups.

The province said it will also be prioritizing the distribution of the vaccine in regions with the highest rates of COVID-19.

The government has said, however, that the vaccine isn’t expected to be more broadly available to the general public until April.

Retired Gen. Rick Hillier, who is leading the province’s vaccine task force, says an additional 90,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine are expected to arrive later this month. Those doses will be provided to 14 hospitals in COVID-19 hot spots.

Hillier has said Ontario also expects to receive between 30,000 and 85,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine by the new year, pending its approval by Health Canada.

The province expects to receive 2.4 million doses – allowing it to vaccinate 1.2 million people – during the first three months of 2021.

Hillier said the vaccine will be available to the public starting in April, during the second phase of the rollout, and it will take between six to nine months to distribute shots across the province.

The third and final phase of the plan would then see the vaccine available through places like pharmacies on a regular basis, he said.

Hiller said the start of the vaccination program at Toronto’s University Health Network and the Ottawa Hospital will serve as a pilot that will help fine-tune the next step of the rollout.

Ontario reported 1,940 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, and 23 new deaths due to the virus.