TeamUHN – today is a landmark day for Canada's COVID-19 response.

This morning, UHN received Ontario's first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines, bringing forth a day we've all been waiting for. These past nine months have been challenging in so many ways, but no more so than for healthcare workers across the continuum of care. With this vaccine, we turn the corner and begin a new era in the fight against COVID-19. An era with the effective tools to beat this relentless enemy.

It is our privilege to play a leading role in the national and provincial pandemic response, which now includes an evidence-based and rigorously evaluated vaccination program. UHN and The Ottawa Hospital were selected as the two pilot sites for distributing COVID-19 vaccines in Ontario. Read more in the "Overview of last week" below.

Key reminders and updates

  • Community transmission of COVID-19 still remains a concern across the GTA – please take care of yourself and one another. In terms of recent organizational efforts, our colleagues in Occupational Health – now known as Health Services – are looking to hire more staff to support contact tracing and keep TeamUHN safe. In terms of our individual efforts, please continue to mask, stay physically distant (even when masked), wash your hands, and avoid in-person gathering.
  • We could all use some festive cheer and time for reflection. Join UHN's Holiday Forum tomorrow on Dec. 15 (12:00 – 1:00p.m.)! Livestream here (Chrome and Firefox only). A recording will be made available for colleagues who cannot attend. Thank you everyone for your hard work.
  • UHN was ranked Canada's top research hospital for the 10th year in a row by RE$EARCH Infosource. This all thanks to you, the members of TeamUHN, as well as our donor community and amazing external partners. Read more on UHN News.

Overview of last week

1. Ontario announces two pilot sites for distributing COVID-19 vaccines including UHN and The Ottawa Hospital

  • Background: On Dec. 10, Premier Doug Ford announced that UHN will be one of two pilot sites receiving Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for Ontario. This news followed the Premier's visit to Princess Margaret Cancer Research Tower on Dec. 8, where he viewed the specialized freezer equipment required for storing the Pfizer vaccines. He was joined during this masked and physically distant visit by Minister Christine Elliott, General Rick Hillier, Sylvia Jones MPP, as well as myself and a few other UHN colleagues.
  • What happened last week? This morning, UHN now received a very small number of doses and will store, distribute, and administer them under the direction of the Province. The Province is focused on getting vaccines to the most vulnerable populations first, which were identified and recommended by medical experts and Ontario's COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force.
  • What do I need to know? UHN was asked to start by vaccinating healthcare workers working at 36 long-term care homes (unless on outbreak), including some outside of Toronto. If there happen to be cancellations due to healthcare workers not meeting eligibility criteria, we will invite staff from a waitlist to receive the vaccine so that we don't waste the doses that have already been thawed (they only last six hours after they are diluted). The waitlist is being created using a set of criteria (details to come) and will involve a lottery system.

2. Virtual Emergency Department pilot launches at UHN and peer hospitals

  • Background: During Wave 1 of the pandemic, Ontario's Emergency Departments (EDs) experienced a decrease in visits, likely due to fear of COVID-19. This resulted in people not getting the care they required which worsened their condition. In response, UHN is now participating in a six-month Virtual Emergency Department (ED) pilot called "ED Virtual Visits from Home". This innovative pilot includes Sunnybrook and Unity Health and is made possible thanks to the support of Ontario Health Toronto Region. Our shared hope is to help reduce wait times, support under-served populations, and improve the patient and caregiver experience.
  • What happened last week? ED physicians and administrative professionals began training last week. The pilot starts today on Dec. 14.
  • What do I need to know? Patients are now able to request an ED Virtual Appointment through our online booking system, with appointments available between Monday to Friday, 2:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. This service is intended for people who have an urgent but non life-threatening concern and can't access their family doctor. This pilot will further advance UHN's Virtual Care strategy, now known as "Accessing Care Everywhere."

3. Update on COVID-19 research at UHN

  • Background: UHN's Research Committee of the Board is responsible for monitoring and evaluating UHN's discovery, translational and clinical research enterprise. It makes recommendations for UHN's Board of Trustees to consider from time to time and is chaired by Lawrence Pentland (UHN Trustee). Much of their recent conversation has focused on COVID-19 research. There are currently 180+ research projects and 20+ clinical trials related to COVID-19 at UHN.
  • What happened last week? The Committee and I convened for their quarterly meeting to discuss a number of items including an update on COVID-19 research at UHN. Two ongoing clinical trials were highlighted: 1) The ILIAD trial (led by Jordan Feld) is finding that treatment with an antiviral drug called peg-interferon lambda speeds up the body's response to clear COVID-19; and 2) The ATTACC adaptive clinical trial (led by Patrick Lawler and Ewan Goligher) is examining the efficacy of a blood thinner in preventing stays in the ICU and mortality among people hospitalized for COVID-19 – this international trial has enrolled more than 900 participants thus far.
  • What do I need to know? In addition to the clinical trials above, we received an update on our widely known RESPECT (Research Platform to Screen and Protect Individuals that Work within a Food Production, Healthcare, Research or Clinical Organization) trial. The purpose of the trial is to determine how common asymptomatic COVID-19 infection is among staff. Participation is voluntary and the current phase of the trial is led by Amit Oza. Approximately 300 research participants are being tested by nasopharyngeal swab each week – the totals now include more than 1,300 participants, 3,700 nasopharyngeal swab samples and 1,100 blood samples for serology tests (as of October 2020). The rate of positivity appears to be low, but further study is required for a conclusive answer. The research team has also started recruitment at a major food production facility, where approximately 90 staff are tested each week.

Closing notes

On Wednesday, Dec. 16 (11:00 a.m.), The Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health for the Government of Canada is hosting a virtual appreciation event for healthcare and allied health workers. Join via Zoom (Dial-in option: 1-855-703-8985 Toll Free // Webinar ID: 659 3195 2653 / Passcode: 815136). Please RSVP to Nada Nasri (

Music is healingenjoy this performance by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in the newly transformed, world-class space of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. In addition to listening to music, please consider supporting your well-being by accessing the UHN Cares program (Corporate Intranet > COVID-19 Preparedness > Mental Health Supports). Reminder that mental health is connected to physical health.


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Have a good week,


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