Some politicians in Ottawa and the surrounding area are calling on the province to expand the number of COVID-19 hot spots in the hopes of improving vaccine access to people living in hard-hit areas.
On Thursday, Ottawa–Vanier MPP Lucille Collard wrote to Minister of Health Christine Elliott requesting that the neighbourhoods of Vanier and Overbrook — and specifically the K1K and K1L postal codes — either be designated hot spots or have local pharmacies added to the pharmacy vaccine pilot.
Collard said the community — which has many low-income residents living in congregate settings and working frontline jobs —has been hit hard by COVID-19 cases over the past five months.
Many people also don't have access to a car, she added, so it's important to have vaccination clinics within walking distance.
"It's a high-density area," the Liberal MPP told CBC News on Saturday.
"We have the highest usage of the food bank in the whole province. So the fact that we're not getting attention to get vaccination, you know, I find it problematic."
Hot spot vaccination still unclear
According to data compiled by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, Vanier does have the highest rate of vaccinated people in the city, likely due to a targeted vaccination rollout by Ottawa Public Health.
But Collard said the rollout isn't serving residents "well enough."
"People have been calling my office very often and consistently to say that they don't have access to … an appointment for a vaccination," she said.
Collard said areas designated by the province as hot spots could allow those 18 and older to be vaccinated, although it's still unclear how anyone aged 18 to 49 will be able to book an appointment.
The Wednesday hot spot announcement by Premier Doug Ford caught public health units by surprise, and as of Saturday afternoon the online booking portal wasn't open to those under 50.
A message on Ontario's COVID-19 vaccination web page says anyone aged 18 to 49 living in a hot spot should check local health units for details.
Mayor Jim Watson told reporters on Friday he's also concerned about geographical gaps in the pharmacy rollout in Ottawa and that he's written a letter to the new vaccine task force head, Dr. Homer Tien, for better coverage.
Watson mentioned Vanier specifically as an area that was originally overlooked in the distribution of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine through pharmacies.
In Cornwall, Ont., both Mayor Bernadette Clement and the region's medical officer of health, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, are also calling for the area to be designated a hot spot.
The case count in the area is rising, and the situation at the Cornwall Community Hospital is so dire it is already transferring patients to other centres for care.
"Cornwall is a hot spot," Roumeliotis said at a city council meeting Thursday night. "Today I wrote a letter to the [person] in charge of the actual distribution force ... expressing that we are a hot zone and we need to be looked at as such."
The local MPP for the area, Jim McDonell, was at that council meeting, and Clement said she hopes he brings the message back to the province.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said hot spots were identified based on rates of COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations and transmission, and that more communities may be added to the list as COVID-19 cases surge.