Rural areas anxious for news on vaccine rollout plan

·3 min read

As scores of Ottawans have started receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, health-care workers and residents in rural parts of eastern Ontario are still waiting to hear when their doses will arrive and what the plan is for the rollout.

"We deserve better communication," said Dr. Alan Drummond, an emergency room physician in Perth, Ont.

Drummond said he's admitted people with COVID-19 in two of three recent shifts at the local hospital, yet he's heard very little about the plan to have himself and other staff vaccinated.

That's left him frustrated and demanding more transparency from public health officials.

"The vaccine may not reach the arms of emergency staff in Perth until March," Drummond said.

"We all get that there are vulnerable Canadians and vulnerable communities that are more deserving. We all get that there's a shortage of vaccination supply. But what we don't get is that we have to basically beg for basic information as to what to expect."

Ashley Burke/CBC
Ashley Burke/CBC

'We don't need a committee'

The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit (LGLDHU), which includes Perth and other rural communities south of Ottawa, says planning has begun — including the development of an advisory group that will oversee vaccine rollout.

Meetings are set for Jan. 12.

"I have regular communication with the health-care providers around everything related to COVID and communicated with them in December, as soon as we knew about the vaccines that had been approved," said medical officer of health Dr. Paula Stewart.

While Stewart said they'd like to see vaccinations begin in January, it all depends on when the community takes receipt of its first doses.

The idea that a new vaccine committee is only now being set up angers some front-line doctors and nurses, Drummond said.

"We don't need a committee or a task force to figure this out. This is not rocket science," said Drummond. "You don't need a committee to count heads. Tell us how many patients are there. Give us the vaccine. We will go in and on a volunteer basis and administer the vaccination."

Date of vaccine arrival unknown

When it comes to Ontario's vaccine rollout, priority is being given to residents, staff and essential caregivers in long-term care homes and Indigenous communities.

Next in line will be hospital and other health-care workers.

A number of nursing and retirement homes in the LGLDHU were hit hard by COVID-19 cases in the spring, including at Almonte Country Haven, where 29 residents died.

There's a chance health workers from communities like Smiths Falls, Carleton Place and Kemptville may be asked to travel to Kingston, Ont., to get vaccinated, Stewart said.

"It's been a little difficult for people — particularly health-care workers and long-term care workers — to see Ottawa getting the vaccine and it hasn't come to them," said Stewart.

"I'm hoping that as soon as Pfizer does come to Kingston, we'll be able to start moving to support those people."

Andrew Lee/CBC
Andrew Lee/CBC

'A little slower than anticipated'

Further up the Ottawa River, the medical officer of health for the Renfrew County and District Health Unit, Dr. Robert Cushman, said there are nine nursing homes and about 3,000 workers, caregivers and residents in line to get the first shots.

Given that Renfrew County has largely been in the "green" zone for much of the pandemic, Cushman figures it could be weeks before the vaccine arrives.

"My feeling is this is going to be a hurry-up-and-wait kind of thing," said Cushman. "Rollout has been a little slower than anticipated."

Cushman said he'd prefer to get the Moderna vaccine rather than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which requires extremely cold storage — something they don't have access to in Renfrew County.

The Eastern Ontario Health Unit, meanwhile, has been told to expect delivery of vaccine doses this week.

Emergency services staff will help administer shots at local long-term care homes that have experienced outbreaks.

COVID-19 cases continue to increase in the area, especially in the city of Cornwall, Ont.