Government ignores science table on hot spot vaccines, blames Ottawa for lack of supply

Government ignores science table on hot spot vaccines, blames Ottawa for lack of supply

As people waited for hours in the snow — some camping out overnight — in Toronto's Jane and Finch neighbourhood for a COVID-19 vaccine, yet another expert said it didn't have to be this way.

Dr. Nathan Stall, who sits on the Ontario Science Table, said the advisory group recommended the province allocate half of its incoming vaccines to 74 hot spots. The government then earmarked 25 per cent to 114 hot spots — halving the proposed allotment, and spreading it across more neighbourhoods.

Solicitor General Sylvia Jones did not address the question of why the government ignored its advisers on the rate of vaccines that should be given to hot spots, when asked by QP Briefing.

"We have always suggested when those high-risk neighbourhoods are at risk that they should have a higher percentage of vaccines. We've encouraged public health units to host onsite vaccine clinics in those high-risk neighbourhoods," she said.

Partway through her answer, she started talking about vaccine hesitancy.

"We're coming to you," she said of people who are vaccine-hesitant or are having difficulties booking vaccines.

On public health units, she said "they understand, and they are doing the work on the ground to make sure that if you're in a high-risk neighbourhood, you're getting access to that vaccine in a much faster way."

Many people are not getting access to any vaccine, at all. Ontarians have been sharing stories by the dozens of how, despite being told by the premier that they are eligible, there has been no word of when they can actually get a shot. Thousands have turned to volunteers on social media to find out when they can get a potentially life-saving vaccine. And when they are able to sign up, the labyrinthine web of vaccine portals often don't work.

On Wednesday, a tweet from Star journalist Amy Dempsey illustrated the failures of Ontario's "Hunger Games"-like system compared to Nova Scotia's centralized portal, which gives users a list of clinics close to their postal code.

Jones blamed the federal government for a lack of supply.

"Look, I'd love to do more of it. And as the vaccine supply increases, we will do that. We have those plans in place. But frankly, right now in the province of Ontario, we have far more capacity to give vaccines than we have vaccine supply," she said.

It was far from the first time a medical expert whose ostensible job it is to advise decision-makers has said that the Ford government is ignoring them.

On the selection of the hot spots themselves, CBC and the Toronto Star reported that the government passed over some harder-hit neighbourhoods in favour of others that were doing better, most of which were Progressive Conservative ridings. The government denies the process was politicized, saying many data points, including things like the density of congregate living, went into the selections.

Recently, Dr. Peter Jüni, the director of the Science Table, said he came close to quitting last Friday when Ontario announced its now-walked back measures to close playgrounds, saying the table recommended the opposite.

Opposition leaders said the government needs to do more to get vaccines into the arms of vulnerable people. But asked if the deprioritization of hard-hit neighbourhoods — many of which are predominantly people of colour — was an example of structural or institutional racism, they were hesitant to say the r-word.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said her MPPs representing diverse areas believe the government isn't doing enough for their communities.

“Yes, they all believe that this government is turning its back on the racialized communities that are right now feeling the brunt of COVID-19,” she said.

Liberal house leader John Fraser said getting AstraZeneca doses into pharmacies in hard-hit areas "wasn't a priority for government" at the beginning of the pilot. "And too often, that happens. Like paid sick days — who does it affect the most? People who have jobs that are precarious, people of colour, women." he said.

Green Leader Mike Schreiner said the pandemic revealed systemic discrimination in all areas, as seniors and racialized workers have been hardest hit by the virus.

Jack Hauen


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