Green Party Leader Annamie Paul is calling for an immediate extension of the AstraZeneca vaccine pilot program to all racialized Canadians in the areas of Toronto most severely impacted by COVID-19, regardless of age.
The program currently includes select pharmacies in three public health units — Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington, Toronto and Windsor-Essex County — that will administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to those 60 years and older. Appointment bookings began Monday.
Speaking to media in Regent Park, Paul explained that it is a known fact that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on some communities — especially the Toronto Centre areas of North and South St. James Town, Regent Park and Moss Park — which have some of the highest rates of COVID-19 infection in the city.
The map from the City of Toronto website below shows that North St. James Town currently has 736 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people – the highest in the entire city.
“The people who live in this resilient, generous community are people who do the kind of frontline, essential work that has kept our communities and our economy and our city going throughout this entire pandemic,” she said.
While many of the pharmacies running the AstraZeneca pilot program are located in Toronto Centre, adults below 60 do not qualify and Paul says that needs to change.
She added that many in these communities are low income and racialized people and cited the National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s recommendation that “adults in racialized and marginalized communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19” should be immunized at the same time as adults aged 60-69.
“This group has been excluded. Adults 59 and below do not qualify for this pilot program and therefore that [NACI] guideline is not being followed,” she said.
Paul has sent an open letter to Mayor John Tory and Premier Doug Ford asking them to “please not forget these communities.”
“Please don’t forget Regent Park, please don’t forget St. James Town, please don’t forget Moss park and all across Toronto, please do not forget the racialized, marginalized communities that have been very hard hit by COVID … that need that vaccination protection now,” she said.
Paul added that since the vaccination infrastructure has already been put in place in these communities, it is imperative to extend the pilot program to all adults from racialized and marginalized communities.
“This is a blind spot. I’m assuming that premier Ford and mayor Tory want to do all they can to protect the most vulnerable people in their communities,” she said. “So let’s make sure we fix this and that we respect the science, we respect the recommendations of NACI.”
A spokesperson for mayor Tory confirmed he has received Paul’s letter and her request has been shared with Toronto Public Health (TPH), adding that the pilot program is a provincial initiative. They said TPH reviewed the pharmacy locations in Toronto and gave a list of locations to the province as they plan the expansion of the program.
“A big priority throughout the city’s vaccine rollout plan includes targeting the hardest hit areas,” said Lawvin Hadisi. “The Mayor along with TPH is advocating for more pharmacies in those areas that have been seeing higher COVID-19 rates. Our goal is to help all residents in these areas access the vaccine easily.”
The statement from the mayor’s office did not address making the pilot program available to those below 60 years of age in hard hit areas.
CityNews has reached out to the office of premier Ford and is awaiting a response.
Read Paul’s open letter to the mayor and premier below: