SUDBURY -- Enough Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are expected to arrive in Greater Sudbury that all residents in care homes in the area should receive the shot by Feb. 5.

Public Health Sudbury & Districts made the announcement Monday afternoon, marking the start of the much-anticipated vaccination program "for residents of long-term care and high-risk retirement homes," the health unit said in a news release.

Shipments of the vaccine are arriving over the next two weeks "in quantities sufficient to immunize all residents of the facilities in its service area by Feb. 5," the release said.

“This is wonderful news for our community, and we are very eager to immunize and protect our most vulnerable citizens,” Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, medical officer of health, said in the release.

“Vaccines are a critical tool in our fight against COVID-19. We look forward to working with our partners on a safe, effective, and efficient round of immunizations."

The vaccine will be offered to everyone eligible to receive it on a voluntary basis. The vaccine is a safe and effective tool in stopping the spread of COVID-19, the health unit said.

The news follows the vaccination of residents, staff and essential caregivers of the Wikwemikong Nursing Home on Jan. 13.

Area long-term care homes will be prioritized over the next two weeks based on vaccine availability, COVID-19 case rates and outbreaks, and other factors such as logistics to avoid vaccine wastage.

"The critical need for COVID-19 vaccine to protect our most vulnerable has been further highlighted with several recent outbreaks declared locally," the release said. "Most recently, Public Health Sudbury & Districts has declared COVID-19 outbreaks at Pius XII Catholic School, following three associated cases, and at Summit Human Services (group home), a congregate living setting, following the report of one case of COVID-19 in a staff member."

Sutcliffe said they were concerned the vaccine would be delayed after Pfizer-BioNTech announced vaccine supply reductions.

"So we are thrilled that supplies of the Moderna vaccine are being made available to protect vulnerable people across the province,” Sutcliffe said. “I would like to thank long-term care homes and community paramedicine for their support in partnering in this truly unprecedented vaccination plan.”

Public Health reminds residents to continue to follow public health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by staying apart, staying home, and staying COVID-safe. Continue to screen yourself for symptoms, stay home and do not attend work or school when ill.

For essential outings, continue to practise physical distancing, wear your mask, and wash your hands.