(Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP Photo)
As COVID-19 vaccinations make seniors' homes safer, a greater proportion of COVID-19 deaths in Windsor-Essex are of seniors living in the community.
And that is prompting calls to get the vaccine to those seniors sooner than is currently planned.
The group isn't prioritized by the provincial government until Phase 2 of the vaccination plan, which is expected to run from March to July pending vaccine supply. Yet the phase also includes teachers and those in the food processing industry.
But Windsor-Essex's medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed said he is advocating for the province to use age as the "most important predictor" for vaccination.
"I've been asking and I've been pushing through my channels to the government that those are the people we need to vaccinate, those are the priority on top of any other occupational based priority or anything else because those are are the people who are dying," he told host Tony Doucette on CBC Radio's Windsor Morning Monday.
Of the 343 deaths that have occurred locally, 96 per cent have been people 60 years and older, according to last week's epidemiological data. Of these, 64 per cent were people living in long-term care or retirement homes.
Since the start of February, 16 deaths have occurred in seniors in the community compared to 11 deaths from among those in long-term care and retirement homes.
Jane Meadus, a lawyer and institutional advocate for the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly in Toronto, says she agrees with Ahmed, adding that her organization has heard from many seniors in the community who want to be prioritized.
"They're obviously very concerned because they realize that they are very susceptible to these issues and they're afraid of going to the grocery store, they're afraid of just doing the normal things one has to do to live in the community," she said. "So they want to get the vaccine now."
She said they should be considered a more immediate vaccine priority given that many are immuno-compromised, which makes them susceptible to contracting the disease.
The province, Meadus added, needs to provide more clear instructions and ensure that doses are going to those who need it most.
Member Nancy Tenant from Tecumseh's Senior Advisory Committee also says important that older adults have the option to be vaccinated before others as it's one less concern for them.
"I think that if you have heart condition, cancer, any other medical condition and you're living on your own, [there's a] fear of having to go to the hospital and perhaps catching COVID there. So if they are able to be vaccinated prior to having to go to hospital that is one less fear for them," Tenant told CBC News.
Only way to save lives
As for Ahmed, bumping up the priority for these seniors is the only way to prevent more deaths.
"So if we are really trying to save lives, if we are really trying to go with what the vaccine does, which is reduce the severity of the disease, that is the population we should be targeting," Ahmed said.
"If it's entirely up to me, I want to make sure all the seniors in our community — 60 plus, 65 plus, wherever we want to draw the line — we want them to get protected, that's my number one priority."
While he said he realizes there's a lot that goes into the decision around who to prioritize, he said if it comes down to vulnerability they should be looking at the most severely impacted regions and the seniors in those areas.
At this time, Ahmed said he is having ongoing conversations with the province as he cannot make the call himself.