Andrea Horwath, leader of the opposition New Democrats and MPP for Hamilton Centre, said she was concerned that the Ford government’s designations were “inequitable” and do not target the areas with the highest rates of infection.
“I am increasingly concerned that the rollout of these vaccines, which every Ontarian deserves, is becoming a political issue rather than a public health one,” wrote Horwath in a letter addressed to auditor general Bonnie Lysyk.
“I am seeking your office’s review of the data so that Ontarians are assured the vaccines are going where they are needed the most.”
The issue was also raised during question period at Queen’s Park on Monday by Essex MPP Taras Natyshak.
“No one should be playing politics with getting Ontarians vaccines,” said Natyshak. “If it were just simply a massive oversight, they could make it right today. They could change the areas in which they distribute and identify vaccine hot spots.”
Phase 2 of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout begins with a focus on hot spots
Health Minister Christine Elliott responded by calling the accusation of political interference “unbelievable.”
“Unbelievable that you should make any sort of suggestion, while we’re dealing with the life and death of people across this province, that there was some political interference.”
She said the selection of those hot spot neighbourhoods was based on data from Public Health Ontario and recommendations from the province’s COVID-19 science advisory table, adding that more areas will be added to the list going forward.
“As we receive more vaccines and more hot spots are identified by the science advisory table and the medical experts, we will be able to expand. But right now, we’re short on supply. We need to receive more.”
Currently, only two Hamilton postal codes have been designated as COVID-19 “hot spots” by the province – L8W and L9C, both on the Mountain.
The city’s medical officer of health has also identified postal codes beginning with L8L and L8N — both in the lower city — and L9K on the west Mountain as “hot spots” with elevated levels of infection.
While residents aged 50 and older living in those areas can book a vaccine appointment through public health’s COVID-19 hotline (905-974-9848, option 7), they cannot book through the provincial online portal.
Ontario Premier Ford defends vaccine rollout, says it’s simple to book appointment
Flamborough-Glanbrook MPP Donna Skelly, who is Hamilton’s only Progressive Conservative representative, said prioritizing a “combination” of the postal code areas identified by both the Ministry of Health and Hamilton’s medical officer of health would be the ideal way to target the most vulnerable residents in the city.
During an interview on Global News Radio 900 CHML’s Scott Thompson Show on Friday, Skelly said she’d had conversations with Dr. Elizabeth Richardson about how the hot spots were identified.
At the time, Skelly said the province was working with Hamilton public health to ensure all of the postal codes identified were included in the province’s targeted approach.
As of Wednesday, the provincial portal has not been updated to include the three additional postal codes.
A Ministry of Health spokesperson previously told Global News via email that hot spots have been identified based on historic and ongoing high rates of COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations and transmission.
“As the situation in Ontario evolves, communities experiencing sustained surges in COVID-19 prevalence may be identified as COVID-19 Hot Spot communities,” the spokesperson wrote.
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