Before there was an approved COVID-19 vaccine available in Canada, the Ontario government said it had planned for an equitable and fair distribution scheme for vaccine delivery. As we enter the fifth month of vaccine distribution, it is clear that there is a serious problem with the provincial plan.
To be fair, provincial distribution of vaccines requires a reliable supply of vaccines. The failure by the federal government to secure said supply is an embarrassment. So too however is Ontario’s inability to equitably distribute vaccines when those supplies arrive.
You do not have to look far out the window to see the disparity. There are no clinics or pharmacies in South Dundas that offer vaccinations. Those are in Winchester, Cornwall, and points further away. Winchester may not seem far for a vaccine, but if you are diligently trying to “stay home and stay safe,” it is.
This is not just a South Dundas issue though. Throughout the health unit region there are many vaccination deserts. The Eastern Ontario Health Unit serves a large area with over 202,000 residents, and there are six pharmacies and six health unit clinics in this region. The neighbouring Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark District Health Unit has about 169,000 residents with 22 pharmacy clinics and four health unit clinics. Unlike in the EOHU, pharmacies offering vaccinations are not just in large population centres like Brockville. They are in villages and towns like Westport and Gananoque, the far corners of that health unit. If vaccinations were being equitably distributed, each health unit would have a similar proportion of vaccination centres to the population served. In this example, this is not the case.
South Dundas is in the riding of Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry, which has over 116,000 people with three pharmacies and two health unit clinics offering vaccinations. The neighbouring Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes riding has about 16,000 fewer residents, with six pharmacies and two health unit clinics. Again, how is there equity in Ontario’s vaccine distribution when a riding with fewer people has greater access to vaccinations? Could politics play a role?
SDSG is represented by parliamentary assistant to a provincial cabinet minister. Next door is represented by a cabinet minister. The optics here do not look good. Especially when you look at other ridings in rural Ontario represented by opposition parties with fewer vaccine clinics than here.
In an interview with The Leader this week, SDSG MPP Jim McDonell said the basis for deciding where to approve pharmacies is based on community need, not politics. He also said the federal government is to blame for vaccine supply issues. McDonell is not wrong on the supply issues. But from here, in a part of his riding that has pharmacies ready and waiting for the green light to deliver doses, and a visual inequity of access, there is plenty of blame to go around.