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Vaccines rolling out to pharmacies in Ottawa, while gaps in coverage cause concern

“The Mayor will be contacting provincial officials to see how this can be rectified as quickly as possible.”

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COVID-19 vaccines are coming to Ottawa pharmacies for the first time, but there’s concern that the locations selected leave some heavily-populated and high-risk neighbourhoods without easy access to a jab.

The province announced Thursday that it was expanding pharmacy-based vaccination to over 350 additional locations, more than doubling the number of pharmacies involved in Ontario’s vaccine rollout. All will offer the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine by appointment to people aged 55 and older, some starting as early as Saturday. Thirty-four of those pharmacies are in Ottawa.

It’s a mode of vaccine delivery that Mayor Jim Watson had called on the province to bring to the national capital, but, while Watson pleased to see the initiative launched, “there are some gaps in coverage,” spokesperson Patrick Champagne said Friday.

“The Mayor will be contacting provincial officials to see how this can be rectified as quickly as possible.”

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One such gap, flagged by the mayor’s office, is in the Vanier area: one of the communities that Ottawa Public Health has identified as facing high COVID-19 risk.

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury pointed out that, for those living in densely populated communities east of the Rideau River — Vanier, Overbrook and others — the closest vaccinating pharmacy is a Shoppers Drug Mart on Rideau Street or a Walmart pharmacy on Ogilvie Road. And many people in neighbourhoods identified as high-priority for vaccination, including Vanier and Overbrook, also face barriers to travel, he noted.

“They’re older folks, they might not own a car, they might not have any family members here, so, the closer the vaccination can be in their neighbourhood, the easier.”

Somerset Ward Coun. Catherine McKenney said many people they spoke with were encouraged to hear that vaccines were coming to Ottawa pharmacies.

“However, the province is missing an opportunity to reach residents 55-plus in the downtown core with the lack of any pharmacy offering vaccines in Centretown or West Centretown and only one on Rideau Street to serve a large population,” McKenney said.

“With most households relying on transit or by walking to get around, it is unfair not to have access to a pharmacy for their vaccine.”

Ottawa Centre NDP MPP Joel Harden pointed out there were approximately 100,000 electors in his riding, but the only pharmacy-vaccination location on the current list is a Shoppers in Westboro.

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“Memo to the Ford government: There’s a heck of a lot more pharmacists who could handle this in Ottawa Centre than one.”

Lucille Collard, Liberal MPP for Ottawa-Vanier, said her initial reaction to the announcement of Ottawa pharmacy locations was “OK, well, finally.”

But she became concerned when looking at the addresses, and not just because Vanier seemed to have been passed over. Her calculations found 20 of the 34 Ottawa pharmacies were located in four Progressive Conservative ridings, while 13 were in four Liberal ridings. (The 34th is in Ottawa Centre, Harden’s riding).

“The appearance … doesn’t look good,” Collard said, adding it was concerning, “because some of the communities … are very vulnerable.”

Lucille Collard, the MPP of Ottawa-Vanier, says 20 of the 34 Ottawa pharmacies that are to start providing COVID-19 vaccinations on Saturday are found in ridings represented by Progressive Conservatives, with 13 in ridings held by Liberals. Joel Harden, an NDP MPP, says there’s just one in his Ottawa Centre riding.
Lucille Collard, the MPP of Ottawa-Vanier, says 20 of the 34 Ottawa pharmacies that are to start providing COVID-19 vaccinations on Saturday are found in ridings represented by Progressive Conservatives, with 13 in ridings held by Liberals. Joel Harden, an NDP MPP, says there’s just one in his Ottawa Centre riding. Photo by Jean Levac /Postmedia News

Alexandra Hilkene, spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott, said participation and performance in this year’s flu shot program, “as well as capacity and readiness for vaccinations, have been part of the criteria of selection to onboard the pharmacies.”

The province is also making sure that both chain and independent pharmacies are participating, Hilkene said, and regions with high COVID-19 rates have been prioritized. Input from local public health units, the Ontario Pharmacists Association and Neighbourhood Pharmacy Association of Canada was also part of site selection, and pharmacy enrolment continues, she said.

The province has said previously that approximately 1,500 pharmacies across Ontario could be offering vaccinations by the end of April, up from the nearly 700 currently identified.

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Meanwhile, public health units have been directed to continue engaging with community partners to remove barriers to access and to improve uptake and vaccine delivery in high-priority communities, Hilkene said.

“They will use a more tailored approach, including mobile and community clinics, to reach these communities.”

This newspaper reached out to the office of Premier Doug Ford about Collard’s suggestion that politics could have been a factor in the selection of pharmacies in Ottawa. His director of media relations pointed to Hilkene’s response.

COVID-19 By The Numbers, Ottawa

As of 11:59 p.m. Thursday, Ottawa had received 174,410 doses of COVID-19 vaccines and had administered 82 per cent of them. A total of 124,462 first doses had been given and 26,824 second doses.

175: New confirmed cases

17,585: Total cases

0: New deaths

466: Total deaths

43: In hospital

14: In ICU

97.2: Seven-day COVID rate, per 100,000 population

6.5: Per cent positivity rate

1.13: Seven-day R(t) number

Ontario Health did not report statistics due to the Easter Friday holiday. They will report two days worth of statistics Saturday

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