Toronto (Dec. 14, 2020) – University Health Network (UHN) today gave the first COVID-19 vaccine in Ontario. This landmark event signals a potential turning point in the pandemic and underlines the value of science and worldwide cooperation.

"UHN is proud to play a leading role in launching Canada's COVID-19 vaccination program. These past nine months have been challenging in so many ways, but no more so than for healthcare workers across the continuum of care – especially those dedicated colleagues who care for seniors in long-term care," said Dr. Kevin Smith, President & CEO of UHN. "We remember the 13,500 Canadians who lost their lives to this ravaging virus. 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."

Five initial doses were given to healthcare workers from the Rekai Centres in Toronto, a long-term care home partnered with UHN. The first recipient was Anita Quidangen, a personal support worker (PSW) who joined Rekai in 1988 when it opened. Ms Quidangen has worked throughout the pandemic, providing care, support and compassion to Rekai's residents.

The vaccine was administered at The Michener Institute for Education at UHN, which has been set up as the pilot site to give vaccinations to healthcare workers from long-term care homes throughout Toronto.

"Today is also a celebration of research and manufacturing coming together in unprecedented ways in order to create a vaccine in quantities that will permit our world and its citizens to safely restart civil society and commercial enterprise," said Dr. Smith. "This pandemic saw healthcare organizations coming together in a manner that patients and residents truly deserve. Our work with the Rekai has been a privilege for those of us at UHN. I thank Sue Graham-Nutter, CEO of the Rekai Centres, and UHN's Dr. Joy Richards for their outstanding leadership."

UHN is Canada's largest research hospital and cares for some of the country's sickest COVID-19 patients. Named one of the top four hospitals in the world by Newsweek, UHN also continues to address urgent needs for patients who require highly complex medical, surgical and rehab services related to transplant, cancer, cardiac, and neurologic complications.

The other four healthcare workers vaccinated at UHN today are Derek Thompson, PSW, Lucky Aguila, registered practical nurse, Cecile Lasco, PSW, and Colette Cameron, a registered nurse and masters of social work.

"I am very proud of the team at Rekai," said Ms. Graham-Nutter of the Rekai Centres. "In the first wave we experienced an outbreak and it took a heavy toll but the team pulled together and worked through it with TeamUHN. My team pulled double shifts, worked evenings and weekends and stayed in a hotel close to Rekai so that they were readily available. To say that this is an emotional day for us is an understatement. We will do whatever we can to keep our residents and our staff safe and this vaccine will help us do that at Rekai. We think of UHN as 'our cousin' and have since they arrived to help in the first wave."

UHN and The Ottawa Hospital were selected by the Province of Ontario as the two sites responsible for piloting the vaccination rollout across Ontario. The pilot is designed to test the systems set up to enable Ontario to vaccinate as many people as possible and what is learned in this pilot will be given in the form of a playbook to all the other centres which come after.

Vaccination is an important step to a post-pandemic future. The efficacy rates of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are promising at 95 per cent effectiveness.

"This is an amazing and important step – a day we've all been waiting for and a true landmark moment in this pandemic. However, there is much that is needed before we can put the pandemic behind us," said Dr. Smith. "We still need to mask, physically distance, wash our hands, and avoid in-person gathering. But this historic moment should be appreciated by all."

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