SOUTH DUNDAS – It may look like other areas of the province have more access to COVID-19 vaccines than the riding of Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry, but local member of provincial Parliament Jim McDonell said that is not the case.
“Per capita we have the same amount of vaccines as others, maybe a bit more than some of our neighbours,” McDonell said in an interview with The Leader.
He said he knew that while areas like Iroquois, Morrisburg and Ingleside did not have any vaccination clinics, the biggest problem is trying to get more vaccines.
The Eastern Ontario Health Unit operates two clinics in the riding which deliver doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, one in Winchester, the other in Cornwall. There are currently three pharmacies, two in Cornwall and one in Winchester, that offer the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
He said the issue with expanding clinics is supply.
“We are just not getting the deliveries,” McDonell said. “Unfortunately we were supposed to be awash in vaccines in April, but now the [federal] messaging has turned to the end of the quarter (June).”
He said that pharmacies have the same problem, supply.
“We were supposed to get another shipment of vaccines last weekend of AstraZeneca, and we’re still waiting,” McDonell said. “When we get more, [the province] will open up more pharmacies.”
McDonell said that he did not disagree that it appears there is an unbalanced geographic spread of vaccination clinics in the riding.
“I’ve talked to Dr. Paul [Roumeliotis] about this and he has committed to talking to South Dundas Mayor Steven Byvelds about this to see about distributing a large quantity of vaccine,” he said. “The goal is to have one per county and there is that same issue in South Glengarry and South Stormont and North Stormont too.”
He said with many of the older population groups being vaccinated already in the first phase of the provincial plan, mobility issues are less of a factor in opening new clinic locations.
McDonell said the changing schedules from the federal government are the issue.
“We’ve had a change in schedule,” he explained. “We’ve gone from the point where we’ve been led to believe that we’re going to have all these vaccines. Now we’re finding out that what the EOHU was promised is not showing up so they are not able to add any more.”
McDonell explained that there are some pharmacies that don’t have supply.
“[The government] wants to try to open up more pharmacies, but until they get more supply, they can’t.”
McDonell responded to concerns some areas may appear to be receiving less access to vaccines, like in South Dundas and South Stormont, saying that is not the intent.
“That is not the intention,” he said. “The intention really is developing a plan that allows for the greatest roll-out to areas and that includes clinics in South Glengarry and South Dundas.”
He said that criticisms from the federal government about how the province is distributing vaccines are unwarranted considering the supply issues.
When asked if he had a timeline when there may be new pharmacies in the area to deliver vaccines, he said there is good news and bad news.
“The good news is a lot of the pharmacies that got vaccines can’t get rid of it, or very slowly get rid of it,” he said of AstraZeneca doses. That vaccine has had restrictions placed on it because of potential blood clotting issues.
As the province has now lowered the age of pharmacy vaccinations to people 40 years old and older, additional supplies of AstraZeneca should go to new pharmacies McDonell said.
“People are hedging their bets on what vaccine is going to be available,” he added.
“The bad news is there isn’t more supply yet. The government doesn’t want to open up more access when the supply isn’t there.”
When it comes to advocating for more supply for the riding, McDonell said he is talking to Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott “quite often, but not at the point of being a pest.”
“I guess I am a realist, if they haven’t got any more supply to give out...”
While taking criticism locally for provincial issues, McDonell restated again that supply issue is really a federal problem for the federal government to solve.
“It’s a federal issue and we have no control over how to fix it,” McDonell said.
McDonell will attend a special virtual SDG Counties Council meeting April 21st to discuss supply issues and other COVID-19 related matters at the invitation of the council.
Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leader