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Mayor Watson pushing province for COVID-19 vaccines in Ottawa pharmacies

The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine has so far been made available to pharmacies in Toronto, Kingston and Windsor-Essex. Ottawa's mayor would like to see the nation's capital included in the next expansion to the pilot program. The Canadian Press file

Ottawa’s mayor is pushing provincial officials to include Ottawa in plans to expand the COVID-19 vaccination rollout in more pharmacies across Ontario.

Jim Watson told reporters Wednesday afternoon that he and Keith Egli, chair of the Ottawa Board of Health, sent a letter to the province’s health minister asking for Ottawa pharmacies to get shipments of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for distribution locally.

He said he had heard “rumblings” through informal discussions with provincial officials that three Ottawa pharmacies could be added to the distribution campaign, but added that the city would need “dozens more.”

Watson said that pharmacies and primary-care physicians will need to play a meaningful role in the vaccine rollout locally, given Ottawa’s geographic size relative to more densely populated regions to the south.

Read more: 1/3 of COVID-19 vaccines given by Kingston pharmacies to those from out-of-region

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The province plans to expand its existing pharmacy vaccination pilot, currently running in Toronto, Windsor-Essex and Kingston, to Peel and York regions in the coming weeks.

Watson said Wednesday he sees “no reason” why Ottawa shouldn’t be included in the pharmacy plan, citing the city’s clusters of high COVID-19 transmission that are comparable to the Greater Toronto Area.

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He added that a “significant number” of local pharmacies have reached out to the city to indicate their readiness to join the pilot.

Ottawa’s vaccine distribution campaign stumbled Tuesday as some residents who had scheduled appointments over the weekend at the Eva James Memorial Community Centre and The Ruddy Family YMCA-YWCA clinics were double-booked for available slots.

Read more: Former prime ministers Chrétien, Clark vaccinated in Ottawa

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The city mobilized shuttles to transport vaccine hopefuls from these sites to pop-up sites hastily set up with more capacity, but others reported problems booking new appointments through the provincial system.

Anthony Di Monte, head of Ottawa’s vaccine distribution task force, said that problems with Ontario’s centralized booking platform appeared to have been fixed on Wednesday.

He told reporters that 4,218 new appointments had been booked locally through Ontario’s system since Tuesday’s snafus. A total of 41,830 people in Ottawa have so far booked appointments through province’s booking platform since it went live last Monday, Di Monte said.

While he said the city does still have a contingency plan in place should the provincial booking system face prolonged downtime, he said it’s a “clunky” solution that would see residents call in to make appointments. The city would only make use of such a backup if an extended outage at the provincial level put the city’s supply of vaccine doses at risk of expiration before use.

Ottawa got a shipment of 36,270 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses earlier this week, the largest single batch of vaccines the city has received to date. Di Monte said Ottawa is expecting to receive 44,000 Pfizer does from the province next week, he said.

The city has now administered roughly 106,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, officials said Wednesday. Residents of Ottawa’s 82 retirement homes have all received their second dose vaccination offerings as of last weekend.

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