Skip to content

Zalan: Shift local vaccine priorities to hard-hit neighbourhoods

Health columnist also says priority should also be given to workplaces, particularly workers in lower-paying essential jobs who often have to work even if they are ill
2021-03-05 GLF vaccination clinic 3

Ontario is moving to direct more vaccines to neighbourhoods with the highest case counts and to essential workers. In priority postal codes, people as young as 18 will be able to get a shot, and mobile clinics will be sent directly to places of work and worship.

There is no official start date for the new provincial initiative and it is targeted at Toronto and Peel.

The provincial government last week also released a list of 114 postal code zones designated as hot spots, and announced the start of targeted vaccinations in those areas for people aged 50 and up. They would be eligible to get vaccinated immediately.

I am writing to suggest that Public Health Sudbury & Districts modify its vaccination rollout and take action immediately. Sudbury is not a designated provincial hot spot.

The province is in big trouble. It reported a record high 4,227 new cases of COVID-19 on April 10. It issued two emergency orders that underscored the pressure hospitals are under.

The first order allows physicians to transfer patients to a different hospital without their consent. The second order allows community health agencies and Ontario Health to redeploy staff, and overrides collective agreements and the union grievance process.

ICU doctors and hospital officials are warning that the surge could force the use of an emergency triage protocol that would see them deny lifesaving care to patients with the lowest chance of survival.

Ontario’s government has refused to legislate paid sick days, despite calls from all 34 local medical officers of health to implement the measure. Mobile, on-site vaccination clinics – though promised – have yet to ramp up in workplaces.

Truck drivers and taxi drivers are examples of occupations being overlooked on the vaccine priority lists. Many truck drivers are coming from COVID-19 hot spots, bringing needed supplies to our community. Taxi drivers work in cramped, enclosed spaces, transport our senior citizens and those with disabilities.

What about the high occupational risk to fast-food outlets and essential retail workers?

Workers are getting sick on the job. The local list of active workplace outbreaks (as of publication) includes Glencore Fraser Mine, End of the Roll, Home & Haven Design Studio, Maslack Supply in Falconbridge, Coleman Mine, Creighton Mine, Garson Mine. Outbreaks are over at Janix Corporation, Ivan's Kitchen Cabinets and Telstar Hydraulics Ltd.

Is there anything we can do locally to make a difference?

Our medical officer of health, Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, has used her authority to take certain initiatives. These have included vaccination of Indigenous communities, with people as young as 18 able to get a shot, dispatching paramedics to vaccinate homebound elderly individuals and taking the vaccine to individuals in homeless shelters, as well as requiring the closure of schools in our districts. 

I believe that there are more initiatives to consider.
Begin immediate vaccination of neighbourhoods with the highest case counts. Begin now the vaccination of essential workers such as taxi drivers, truck drivers, workers in fast food joints, supermarkets, drugstores and open box stores. Please include teachers, if there are plans to re-open our schools before summer holidays.

Dr. Sutcliffe, please modify your vaccine rollout in order to meet the needs of those now most at risk in our districts. Shift the immediate focus to neighbourhoods with the highest case counts and workplaces where adults are mostly working outside the home, in lower-paying essential jobs, often going to work even when sick, without given time to register and attend a vaccination centre. 

I believe that our community would agree. 

Dr. Peter Zalan is past president of the medical staff at Health Sciences North.