Skip to main content

Near-real-time data changed the way COVID-19 vaccines were allocated and reported on across Ontario



By the time Ontario was experiencing the second wave of COVID-19 in September 2020, ICES scientists and staff were already making great strides in providing real-time data on COVID-19 testing and infection rates in long-term care and retirement homes to the provincial government, the COVID-19 Science Advisory Table and public health units. That work evolved into providing weekly reports to public health units on neighbourhood-level testing and COVID-19 test positivity rates for all Ontarians. The granular nature of the data, which was updated on the ICES COVID-19 dashboard on a weekly basis, allowed for the delivery of neighbourhood-level analytics that helped to inform the province-wide response to the pandemic and make residents aware of local transmission rates.

ICES Research

In November 2020, ICES began to provide COVID-19 case and percent positivity rates by neighbourhood based on forward sortation areas (FSAs), which are geographical areas based on the first three characters in a postal code. These data were shared with public health units and posted on the ICES website, and helped public health units better target communities in their catchment areas for testing.

ICES’ work with FSAs also had real-time impact on the way the government rolled out its vaccination strategy. When vaccination data became available at ICES near the end of March 2021, the first report showed how vaccine uptake varied across neighbourhoods with higher and lower levels of COVID-19 infection rates. Neighbourhoods with higher rates of infection had lower rates of vaccine uptake, and these data informed the strategy to increase vaccine supply to these hardest hit neighbourhoods and address this important inequity. Not only was the COVID-19 testing and positivity work informing policy on a near-daily basis, the data posted on the ICES COVID-19 dashboard were being leveraged by service providers, media and the public to support more transparent, efficient and equitable vaccination delivery.

Areas of impact

ICES published downloadable aggregated data files reporting weekly FSA-level COVID-19 percent positivity rates and the cumulative incidence of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, deaths and vaccinations; the files were downloaded 2,486 times as of August 26, 2021. The data were used by local and national media as well as by researchers and citizens, who were then able to create additional data visualizations and perform secondary analyses to raise public awareness.

How this work is having impact

  • ICES scientists published 32 studies about COVID-19 in 2020/21.
  • Through data partnerships at the provincial and national levels, ICES rapidly added near-real-time COVID-19–relevant data sets to its collection of linked health data.
  • During 2020/21, 27 COVID-related Applied Health Research Questions (AHRQs) were answered by ICES scientists and staff.
  • The ICES COVID-19 dashboard was visited 112, 095 times from April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021.
  • According to Homer Tien, head of Ontario’s COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force, ICES’ modelling of hotspots influenced the task force’s planning and recommendations to Ontario government ministers and Canada’s premiers.
  • Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, used the weekly testing reports to monitor the
    province’s reopening plans.

“ICES data have been central to a number of stories at The Local about the vaccine rollout across Toronto and Peel region. On April 6, The Local broke the story about how the vaccine rollout was missing Toronto’s hardest-hit areas, all using ICES data just hours after they were released publicly. The ICES vaccination data set, updated weekly, was core to several stories in our Vaccinating Toronto series, including our Hot Spot Tracker. These stories were widely read by citizens to stay informed and by policy-makers and vaccine teams to target pop-up clinics in hard-hit and undervaccinated neighbourhoods.”
Tai Huynh, editor-in-chief, The Local


Posted December 2021

Published in the 2020-21 Annual Report

Download the PDF

Read more impact stories