Northern Cape Breton residents at disadvantage for access to vaccine, says MLA

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Keith Bain, the Progressive Conservative MLA for Victoria-The Lakes, says Nova Scotia's Liberal government needs to do more to help seniors in northern Cape Breton access the COVID-19 vaccine. (Michael Gorman/CBC - image credit)
Keith Bain, the Progressive Conservative MLA for Victoria-The Lakes, says Nova Scotia's Liberal government needs to do more to help seniors in northern Cape Breton access the COVID-19 vaccine. (Michael Gorman/CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia's Liberal government should do more to make COVID-19 vaccine available to people in northern Cape Breton, says the Progressive Conservative MLA for Victoria-The Lakes.

Keith Bain said there are more than 100 people living north of Cape Smokey over the age of 80 and that does not include nursing home residents.

He said they have to travel three hours one way to get to the vaccination clinic at Cape Breton University east of Sydney.

"As has been pointed out many times, age is the single biggest factor in the COVID-19 mortality, so it's urgent that these seniors receive the vaccine as quickly as possible," Bain said.

Health Minister Zach Churchill said in the legislature this week that Nova Scotia needs more supply from the federal government to roll out vaccines to medical clinics and pharmacies across the province.

"No community should be further than around 45 minutes for accessing vaccine, but as supply increases in Nova Scotia, so will the outposts where vaccines are going to be delivered," he said.

Health Minister Zach Churchill says the province has a robust vaccination plan that will take care of the oldest and most vulnerable people first.
Health Minister Zach Churchill says the province has a robust vaccination plan that will take care of the oldest and most vulnerable people first.(CBC)

Churchill said the province is starting vaccinations with those 80 and older and will be continuing to add lower age groups as the supply increases.

Responding to Bain's concerns about residents in northern Cape Breton, the minister said the AstraZeneca shot cannot be given to anyone over 65. He said the other vaccines require cold storage that, in Cape Breton, is currently only available at the regional hospital in Sydney.

Bain said health-care providers in northern Cape Breton are ready to administer vaccines now and the province could ship them the Moderna version that does not require ultra-cold storage.

Churchill said the province has a robust rollout plan that is taking care of the most vulnerable people first.

Bain said in an interview that the plan is not good enough.

"I got a call today from somebody that called to get an appointment, over 80, and they were told there's no more appointments available, so there's not too much robust about anything," he said.

Victoria County communications officer Jocelyn Bethune said most people in the municipality live at least an hour's drive from Cape Breton University.

Help with transit on the way

She said the local transit service can only take one or two residents at a time and the county has asked the province for help with transportation for residents, but has not yet received a reply.

During a briefing on Friday, Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, said the province is working with the Community Transportation Network under the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage to come up with funding to help people pay for transportation to the clinics.

But Bain said people 80 and older still should not have to travel six hours to get a shot.

Cape Breton Regional Municipality announced this week its Handi-Trans service is available free for residents 80 years and older needing help getting to the vaccination site.

Those clinics are scheduled for March 15, 19 and 23 for anyone 80 and older whose birthday falls between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31.

CBRM says residents should book an appointment first with the clinic, then they can call Handi-Trans at 902-539-4336 to arrange transportation.

The province has also opened up vaccinations for people 63 and 64 years old. The AstraZeneca vaccine will be available at some pharmacies and doctors' offices.

Starting Monday, March 15, appointments can be booked by calling 1-833-797-7772 or going online.

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