TORONTO — A long-term care resident in Quebec and a nursing home worker in Ontario received Canada's first COVID-19 vaccinations on Monday, kicking off the largest immunization campaign in the country's history.
The shots from Pfizer were administered in Quebec City and Toronto within half an hour of each other, creating some confusion about which province could lay claim to being the first in the country to hand out the doses.
“What we witnessed today is a massive step forward in the fight against this deadly virus," said Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who thanked the Toronto hospital network that administered his province's first vaccines.
"Thanks to them we were the first in Canada and one of the first in North America to administer this vaccine."
In Quebec, the province's health minister said 89-year-old Gisele Levesque received her vaccination at 11:30 a.m. ET at the Saint-Antoine long-term care home in the provincial capital, making her the first in Canada to get the shot.
But that was only announced after Anita Quidangen, a Toronto personal support worker, received her shot during a live broadcast around noon.
Leaders in both provinces said the roll out of the shots marked a historic day.
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"This is a watershed moment - the beginning of the end of this terrible pandemic," Ford said in a statement.
"The light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter every day, but we must remain on our guard."
Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube said it was "a very, very big day" for the province.
Officials said they would be vaccinating residents and staff at the Quebec City long-term care home and at the Maimonides Geriatric Centre in Montreal after receiving a shipment of the vaccine Sunday night.
In Toronto, Quidangen, a long-time employee of the Rekai Centre nursing home, received the vaccine to applause from staff from the University Health Network. Cheers erupted as she bumped elbows with hospital executives moments later.
She was among a group of five nursing-home workers who were given the first few shots of the vaccine in Ontario.
"It's an honour, thank you very much," she said. "I'll continue to do my job as a PSW"
Ford praised Quindangen and the other workers who got the shot for their dedication to their jobs.
Ontario received 6,000 doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine 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.
Ontario reported 1,940 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, and 23 new deaths due to the virus.
Quebec reported 1,620 new COVID-19 cases on Monday and 25 more deaths linked to the novel coronavirus.