Last Friday Jeff Yurek got to do something that was even more fun than being the environment minister in a PC government: he put needles in constituents' arms in St. Thomas.
But these weren't just any needles. They contained COVID-19 vaccines, and Yurek, a pharmacist by training, was thrilled with the opportunity.
"It's enjoyable to see the relief in their eyes," he told QP Briefing, calling the experience "quite satisfying."
It was Yurek's first chance to return to his pharmacy practice since July 2018 when he became a minister. And like fellow PC MPP Natalia Kusendova, a nurse who returned to the front lines in order to serve her community in multiple ways, Yurek revelled in the opportunity. "It was really great to speak one-on-one with people as a pharmacist. It's a different kind of conversation as opposed to an elected official."
Yurek plans to continue to administer shots throughout the pandemic, although he won't receive the vaccine as a front-line health-care worker, saying that he'll get it as scheduled when his age demographic of 40- to 50-year-olds gets their chance.
Pharmacy runs in the Yurek family. His father established a pharmacy in 1963, which he now owns and operates with his brother.
And while many customers have come and gone in that time, receiving the COVID-19 vaccine — a milestone in a generational event — is special, he notes.
"It's just an amazing organization and coordination of events," he said, praising the various orders of government and health-care professionals who have each worked to deliver the vaccines in what amounts to a record time. "There will be bumps here and there," he added, possibly alluding to delays in vaccine deliveries and concerns about the availability of the sign-up portal, among other issues. But Yurek's experience working alongside others was that he was "amazed" by the diligence and professionalism.
While the minister can receive pointed questions at Queen's Park on issues like the government's climate change plan, changes to environmental assessments and conservation authorities, the questions at the pharmacy are of a decidedly different nature. Chief among them, according to Yurek: "When can I get my second dose?"
Asked about a message to vaccine-hesitant Ontarians, he didn't downplay their concerns but said they should have a conversation with their trusted health professional. "People need to ensure they ask the questions they have," he said, highlighting the emphasis on arming people with accurate and useful information. "The vaccine is safe," he said. "It's also a means of extra protection for you and your loved ones. I think if you're able to, everyone should get out and get your vaccine."