Province hands down ethical framework designed to guide next-steps in COVID-19 vaccine program

Equity, fairness, transparency among the principles of the framework

While the province is still in the very early stages of its vaccination program, it does have a defined direction for future phases.

On Wednesday, Ontario health officials released the province’s ethical framework for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, guiding the prioritization of future phases of the plan. “This ethical framework is a clear demonstration of our commitment to Ontarians to be transparent,” said General Rick Hillier (retired), Chair of the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force. “We know that people are eager to get vaccinated and this framework helps ensure that we do it in an ethical, effective and compassionate way.”

The framework will come into play as the province progresses through the three phases of its vaccination plan, giving experts and policymakers a clear road map for which groups of people to next prioritize. Currently, long-term care healthcare workers, those living in long-term care, high risk Indigenous groups, and those receiving chronic home healthcare are prioritized in phase one.

The framework includes the following principles to guide distribution:

  • Minimize harms and maximize benefits, to reduce overall illness and death related to COVID-19, protect those at greatest risk of serious illness and death due to biological, social, geographical and occupational factors, protect critical infrastructure, and promote social and economic well-being;
  • Equity in the distribution of vaccines without bias or discrimination, to reduce disparities in illness and death related to COVID-19, and ensuring benefits for groups experiencing greater burdens from the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Fairness, to ensure that every individual within equally prioritized groups has the same opportunity to be vaccinated, and to ensure inclusive, consistent processes that are tailored to unique needs of Ontario’s many and varied communities when making decisions about vaccine prioritization;
  • Transparency, to ensure the principles and rationale, decision-making processes and plans for COVID-19 prioritization are clear, understandable and communicated to the public;
  • Legitimacy, making decisions based on the best available scientific evidence, shared values and input from affected parties including those historically underrepresented, to ensure decisions have the intended impact, and to include participation of affected parties in the creation and review of decisions and decision-making processes; and
  • Public trust, to ensure decisions and decision-making processes are informed by these principles to advance confidence and trust in Ontario’s COVID-19 immunization program

Phase One of Ontario’s three-phase vaccine implementation plan began on December 15 at two hospital sites and expanded to include 17 others a week later. Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic on Sperling Drive was among them. With two vaccines approved by Health Canada, Ontario can expect to have received some 140,000 doses of the vaccine by the end of December