Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath urged Premier Doug Ford’s government to ramp up vaccination efforts for home-bound seniors, saying Tuesday that “thousands” of residents over 80 years old are falling through the cracks.
Horwath’s message comes after the province’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table recommended in a report last week that the government consider creating a mobile vaccination program in Toronto to reach apartments and condos with high numbers of elderly residents.
The report identified 489 residential buildings in Toronto that can be defined as naturally occurring retirement communities. To meet that definition, a building must have at least 50 seniors and 30 per cent of all residents must be above the age of 65.
Horwath says thousands of home-bound seniors and those with disabilities who aren’t able to attend a mass vaccination clinic are being left behind.
“We have heard disturbingly that almost a third of seniors over the age of 80 in Ontario have yet to be vaccinated,” Horwath said on the floor of the house Tuesday morning.
“The reality is that there are many seniors who are either unable to go to a mass vaccination site or are fearful of going to a mass vaccination site,” Horwath continued.
In response, Ford said the province is doing everything it can to get seniors vaccinated, including using mobile vaccination units that go into areas which “have a tremendous amount of seniors, right across the province.”
“We’re already at 71 per cent (of those over 80 vaccinated),” Ford said. “We’ve got over 190,000 appointments yesterday, which is a new record … We’re going to continue making sure we hit that threshold of 100 per cent vaccinated very shortly.”
But Horwath isn’t convinced the government’s mobile units are getting shots to home-bound seniors.
“The premier claims that there are mobile units on the road, when we know that seniors aren’t getting those vaccines in their arms in a convenient and safe way at home,” Horwath said.
On Monday, Ontario lowered the age limit for COVID-19 vaccine appointments from 80 to 75 years old roughly two weeks ahead of schedule.
Retired Gen. Rick Hillier, who chairs the province’s vaccine distribution task force, said last week the decision to move into the next age category was made because more than 50 per cent of seniors over 80 had booked an appointment.
On the floor of the house Tuesday, Health Minister Christine Elliott said the government has planned for seniors to receive vaccines “in a variety of ways” that include home-bound seniors being vaccinated by their home- and community-care nurses.
“As we increase the volumes of vaccines going into primary care centres, we will see more seniors going in to receive their vaccines there, or, if they’re homebound, to make sure that a home-care nurse will be able to deliver the vaccine to them after they’ve had a conversation with their primary care provider,” Elliott said.
Horwath says it has taken the government too long to vaccinate Ontario’s over 80 population, including those who can’t attend clinics in person.
“We started receiving vaccines in this province at the end of the year last year,” Horwath said. “It is now near the end of March, and we still have many seniors over the age of 80 who have not received their vaccines.”