OTTAWA -- Ottawa's medical officer of health says while approval of a vaccine will be "helpful" to the fight against COVID-19, Ottawa residents need to 'hang on doing what they're doing" to stop the spread of the virus.

Dr. Vera Etches adds when the COVID-19 vaccine does arrive in Ottawa, residents in long-term care homes and older adults will be the priority.

On Wednesday, Britain gave the green light to the COVID-19 vaccine candidate from Pfizer and BioNTech. The British government said it expects to start its first vaccinations in the country within days.

CTV News Ottawa's Stefan Keyes asked Dr. Etches if she is worried that the positive vaccine news will make people think the end of the pandemic is near.

"I think that people need to hang on doing what they're doing right now, and absolutely get ready for that vaccine. It will be helpful, but it's just not here yet," said Dr. Etches Wednesday afternoon.

Ottawa Public Health has urged people to be "COVID Wise" during the pandemic, including wearing a mask where required, isolate yourself when you're sick, stay two metres from others and exercise proper hand hygiene.

The medical officer of health says Health Canada will decide whether the vaccine is safe for Canada, and then Ottawa Public Health will do "surveillance" when the vaccine is administered.

"What we know is that the vaccine is going to be reviewed and approved by Health Canada, and that they have been studying the science as it goes along. The companies have been submitting materials and I am sure that they will be doing due-diligence to look at all of the evidence to inform this," said Dr. Etches.

"Then it's part of our public health role to do surveillance once people are receiving the vaccine. We look for and evaluate any possible reported side effects, that gets rolled up. So anything that needs to be an alert to the public and study furthered would be flagged."

Health Minister Patty Hajdu said on Twitter Health Canada will complete it's review of the COVID-19 vaccine candidate soon.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization has identified specific groups to be considered for early immunization:

  • Residents and staff of long-term care, retirement homes and chronic care hospitals
  • Individuals of advanced age
  • Health care workers, considering exposure risk
  • Indigenous communities

Some medical experts suggest people with the most contacts should be vaccinated first, including school-aged children.

"We know that the main goals of the COVID response are to limit hospitalizations and death, and that population at risk for those outcomes is older. So younger people don't tend to be hospitalized, they tend to be able to make it through the infection, and we really want to protect those who are going to have the worst outcomes," said Dr. Etches.

"The determination of the priority groups will be set by the National Advisory Council on Immunization, and they have flagged that long-term care homes residents, older adults are definitely in the priority groups."