Malhotra and Dojeiji: Vaccine Policy is Ignoring People With Disabilities

At this stage, what is desperately needed is a dedicated venue that would allow people with disabilities to access vaccines safely, in a stress-free environment. Author of the article:
Ravi Malhotra, Sue Dojeiji

Publishing date:
May 06, 2021

As Canadians from all walks of life line up for COVID-19 vaccines, it is becoming clear that people with disabilities are once again being ignored.

The recent passage of the Accessible Canada Act in 2019 marked a commitment by the federal government to include people with disabilities as full citizens through barrier removal and accommodation. This followed the 2005 enactment of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). These statutes were meant to signal a turning point away from the deep poverty and unemployment that is experienced by far too many people with disabilities every day. They suggested that Canadian society was now committed to systematically identifying and removing the barriers in all spheres of society so that the talents of people with disabilities could be fostered for the betterment of all.

Yet the vaccine rollout shines a bright light on the disparities that continue to plague people with disabilities. Amidst confusing and sometimes contradictory information, ambiguous prioritization criteria and multiple registration systems which do not always work and entail long delays, many people with disabilities risk once again being left behind.

A significant proportion of people with disabilities do not have access to cars, making it more difficult to access pharmacies often distant from home or to be able to arrive at an appointment on short notice. Many others may not have access to reliable internet connections, rendering navigation of multiple web sites a nightmare. People with visual impairments often face additional challenges when websites are not designed with their needs in mind. And people with speech impairments often face ignorance and stigma when trying to communicate with government authorities due to a lack of awareness of appropriate communication technology.

In a world where even able bodied people are forced to rely on vaccine-hunting services on Twitter to find them vaccines, the challenges facing people with disabilities are daunting.

This is unfortunate because many people with disabilities clearly have medical conditions that place them at significantly greater risk for bad outcomes should they get COVID-19. And as renowned disability rights advocate David Lepofsky has noted, there are real worries that people with disabilities will be disadvantaged should triage become necessary due to a shortage of ICU beds. Yet the current prioritization system has failed to clearly allow people with disabilities to be vaccinated.

At this juncture, what is desperately needed is a dedicated venue that would allow people with disabilities to access vaccines safely and expeditiously in a stress-free environment. Instead of a confusing mishmash of options, people with disabilities should be vaccinated at one site.

Fortunately there is no need to reinvent the wheel: such one-stop shopping venues already exist. Rehabilitation centres across Canada already serve the needs of people with disabilities, both those who require acute rehabilitation care after becoming injured, and those who require lifelong rehabilitation follow-up care.

Making rehabilitation centres into dedicated vaccination sites for people with disabilities would solve multiple problems at once. It would remove the chaos that the current fragmented registration system creates, conducting the vaccinations at a venue which is fully accessible to the needs of people with disabilities. People with disabilities could be assured that they can be fully vaccinated in a timely manner by health-care providers who have cared for them for years.

Ontario must honour the full promise of the AODA by creating vaccination sites at rehabilitation centres across the province today.

Ravi Malhotra is a Full Professor at the Faculty of Law, Common Law Section and the School of Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Ottawa. Twitter: @RaviMalh. Sue Dojeiji is Neuromuscular Physiatrist and Clinician Educator at the Rehabilitation Centre.

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Court tosses Ontario vaccine rollout discrimination lawsuit over jurisdiction

TORONTO — A claim that alleges Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout discriminated against the vulnerable raises important issues, Divisional Court said on Wednesday as it nevertheless tossed the case.

In its decision, the court declined to declare the rollout unconstitutional on the grounds that it had no jurisdiction to do so and not because the application was without merit.

“The broader issues raised by the applicant are important and pressing issues,” the court said. “There is nothing frivolous and vexatious about the issue of vaccine equity in the context of a global deadly pandemic.”

Read more:
Thousands of Ontarians book COVID-19 vaccine appointments within hours of expanded eligibility

The constitutional challenge, launched in March by David Daneshvar, of Toronto, turned on whether vulnerable people have had fair access to the COVID-19 vaccine. Those include some people with disabilities, homebound seniors, residents of hot spot neighbourhoods and the homeless.

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Daneshvar, 28, who has several disabilities, wanted the government to ensure public health units made equity central to their vaccination plans, and to give them the necessary resources to do so. He also wanted the court to declare the rollout had violated his constitutional rights.

“The applicant’s concerns with accessing a vaccine and with ensuring that he and other Ontarians have equitable access to a vaccine are understandable and likely shared by many people in the province,” the court said. “However, the applicant has not established that the Divisional Court has jurisdiction to grant the broad declaratory relief he seeks.”

In a statement, Daneshvar’s lawyers stood by their assertion that the Ontario government had neglected its duty to provide fair and equitable vaccination access.

“For months, it has been clear the government had the scientific evidence but lacked the will to design a vaccine strategy that prioritized and protected the most vulnerable among us,” David Baker and Chris Holcroft said. “Repeated failures have increased the risk of infection and death for some people.”

The court hearing, they said, had demonstrated the government’s lack of plans to vaccinate people without internet or phone, or who faced language, mobility, or communications challenges.

Click to play video: 'Thousands book COVID-19 vaccine appointment within hours of expanded eligibility in Toronto'

Thousands book COVID-19 vaccine appointment within hours of expanded eligibility in Toronto

Thousands book COVID-19 vaccine appointment within hours of expanded eligibility in Toronto

In its legal filings, the province argued the application was premised on a “fundamental factual and legal misunderstanding” of how COVID-19 vaccines are administered in Ontario.

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While the government devised high-level policy directions, it is up to the province’s 34 public health units to administer vaccines and implement a rollout suitable to their local populations, the province argued.

“Neither the minister nor any other provincial official approved or purported to approve the individual vaccination plans prepared by Ontario’s 34 public health units,” the government said. “The applicant has simply sued the wrong respondent.”

A request from the government to bar Daneshvar’s lawyers from getting paid, including by legal aid, for presenting the “ill advised” case drew sharp rebuke from Divisional Court.

“This request is unprecedented and certainly not warranted,” the court said.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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Group urges province to open COVID-19 vaccine pre-registration to all Ontarians

A Toronto city councillor and a group of health-care professionals are calling on the province to open COVID-19 vaccine pre-registration to all Ontarians in a bid to improve the rollout of shots.

Coun. Josh Matlow and health-care professionals from the University Health Network and the University of Toronto, posted an open letter to Premier Doug Ford, Health Minister Christine Elliott, and the co-chairs of the COVID-19 science advisory table on Wednesday.

Read more:
Scarborough hospital forced to cancel 10,000 appointments from lack of COVID-19 vaccine supply

“While the vaccine rollout offers an end in sight to the COVID-19 pandemic, too many Ontarians who have yet to be eligible for the current phase of the vaccination plan are left feeling anxious about when, and how they’ll learn that their turn will finally come,” the letter said.

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“That is why we recommend the province offer a specific category on their call-in and online booking systems that gives Ontarians an opportunity to pre-register for the vaccine.”

The letter said residents should be able to enter their date of birth, postal code, and contact information and get onto a registration list.

“Once eligible, Ontarians could receive an email and/or text message outlining the next steps on how to officially book their vaccine appointment and applicable location(s),” the letter said.

They said this could improve the management of vaccine supply, offer insight into vaccine hesitancy, and give residents the feeling of being closer to overcoming the pandemic.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Waterloo’s Free Rides to Vaccine Clinics Are Not Wheelchair-Accessible

City says it’s working on a way to provide wheelchair-accessible transportation Richard Raycraft, CBC News
Posted: Mar 29, 2021

The usefulness of an offer by the City of Waterloo to take people with disabilities and older adults to vaccination appointments is being questioned, because the transportation being used is not wheelchair accessible.

In a news release, the city said that beginning today, the Home Support Services team would offer free transportation to people 65 and up as well as adults with disabilities. The service is appointment-only and available Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

“Passengers should be able to get into and out of the vehicle independently to promote safe physical distancing whenever possible,” the release reads.

While the service designed for people over 65 and people with disabilities, the vehicles used are not wheelchair accessible which has raised concerns about accessibility for David Kuhn.

Kuhn, chair of disability advocacy non-profit Kitchener-Waterloo AccessAbility, says he think the city should have made it more clear in its communications that the service is not fully accessible.

“Ideally, nobody would be left out, but obviously that’s not always feasible,” he said.

He says the news raises broader concerns about accessibility in the vaccine rollout.

“A lot of the individuals who have disabilities are some of the most at risk, and they’re the individuals that are being encouraged to get vaccinated when the vaccines are available,” Kuhn, who uses a wheelchair, said.

On Friday, Region of Waterloo Public Health opened up vaccine pre-registration to people with high risk of developing complications from COVID-19. That includes adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

“So the fact that services are being offered that leave those individuals out is very concerning.”

Response from the city

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for the City of Waterloo said that the service is an extension of the Senior Services Transportation Program, which uses vehicles owned by the city that are not wheelchair accessible.

“Our transportation program (which usually has a cost associated with it) has historically coordinated with other providers such as GRT Mobility Plus and local taxi services to refer clients with unique needs if we are unable to accommodate them (as in the case of requiring wheelchair accessible transport),” the statement reads.

The city said it’s intent was to make it easier for older adults and adults with disabilities to get to their vaccine appointments “particularly if transportation and cost may be a barrier” and said that it is “currently in discussion with wheelchair accessible service providers in order to continue to meet the needs of the community.”

Kuhn says that while that news is encouraging, the barrier for people who use wheelchairs is still fully in place.

“I think it’s admirable that they are looking into that it shows that they’re thinking about it,” Kuhn said. “But to say that after a public release … it doesn’t really help to say, ‘We’re going to do it, but we can’t do it right now.”

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London, St. Thomas area health units expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to those 70+ – London

The Middlesex-London Health Unit and Southwestern Public Health are expanding COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to those 70 and older, one week after expanding access to those 75 and older.

The MLHU and SWPH issued a joint announcement Monday morning, adding that the expanded eligibility is effective immediately.

Read more:
Booking system overwhelmed as Middlesex-London expands COVID-19 vaccines to seniors 75+

The health units say provincial data shows that, as of Saturday, more than 75 per cent of Ontarians age 80 and older and roughly one-third of those age 75 to 79 had received their first dose.

“Our priority has been to get the vaccine into arms as quickly as we can,” MLHU medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie said in a statement.

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“With a growing number of those over the age of 75 having received their first dose, the time is right to invite those who are between the ages of 70 and 74 to make their appointments.”

Mackie adds that “demand for the vaccine appointments will be high” so people are encouraged to book online and check back each morning if they are unable to book an appointment right away.

Read more:
78 new COVID-19 cases in London-Middlesex Sunday, largest update since mid-Jan.

SWPH medical officer of health Dr. Jocye Lock adds that “our older adults are most susceptible to severe illness and hospitalization as a result of COVID-19.”

“With the rise of cases, including cases of the variants of concern, it is important that we expand access to all of those over the age of 70,” she says.

The health units say residents born in 1951 or earlier are encouraged to book an appointment online or over the telephone at 226-289-3560.

However, telephone bookings are “discouraged because of the very high volume of calls that make it difficult to get through.”

Click to play video: 'What are seniors allowed to do after being vaccinated? Doctor answers your COVID-19 questions'

What are seniors allowed to do after being vaccinated? Doctor answers your COVID-19 questions

What are seniors allowed to do after being vaccinated? Doctor answers your COVID-19 questions – Mar 29, 2021

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Phase 2 of Ontario’s vaccine plan to focus on age, neighbourhood and health conditions in April

The Ontario government says there will be a focus on seniors aged 60 and older, those in other congregate settings, hot spot regions and those who cannot work from home in an updated vaccine rollout plan on Friday.

According to the documents, the vaccine rollout firstly targets death prevention, followed by prevention of illness, hospitalization and ICU admission, and transmission reduction.

The province is currently wrapping up Phase 1, in which those living in long-term care homes, retirement homes, as well as staff and front-line workers were targeted. Over 820,000 doses have been administered and over 269,000 Ontarians have been fully immunized with two shots.

Read more:
Canada approves Johnson & Johnson’s 1-shot COVID-19 vaccine

Officials noted that the plan does not factor in the newly approved Johnson & Johnson shot and additional doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine, which was announced on Friday.

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Health officials said timelines are amendable and may change based on vaccine supply.  There are currently four vaccines approved in Canada: Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. The first three require two shots several weeks apart while Johnson & Johnson only requires one.

Retired Gen. Rick Hillier, the head of the province’s vaccine rollout said with the approval of the new vaccines, the hope will be that everyone who wishes to be vaccinated will have at least their first dose by the end of June, or potentially by the first day of summer on June 20.

Phase 2 of Ontario’s three-phase rollout plan will see shots administered based on risk factors including age, neighbourhood, existing health conditions and inability to work from home.

Read more:
Toronto, Peel Region moving to grey lockdown restrictions under Ontario’s COVID-19 framework

This strategy focuses on the 2.5 million Ontarians between the ages of 60 and 79 years old.

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Residents over the age of 80 will be vaccinated first in March, followed by those over 75 years old, over 70 years old, over 65 years old and over 60 years old with the target end date to be done by the beginning of June.

The Phase 2 sequencing provided by the Ontario government.

Ontario government

Health Conditions and Congregate Settings

This strategy focuses on the 2.9 million Ontarians living with health conditions and the 0.2 million Ontarians living in congregate settings. This group will begin to be vaccinated in April.

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Ontarians living with the following health conditions will be vaccinated in Phase 2:

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Highest-risk (442,000)

  • organ transplant recipients
  • hematopoietic stem cell transplant recipients
  • people with neurological diseases in which respiratory function may be compromised
  • haematological malignancy diagnosed <1 year
  • kidney diseases eGFR<30

High-risk (292,000)

  • Obesity (BMI>40)
  • Other treatments causing immunosuppression
  • intellectual or developmental disabilities

At-risk (2.2 million)

  • immune deficiencies and autoimmune disorders
  • stroke/cerebrovascular disease
  • dementia
  • diabetes
  • liver disease
  • all other cancers
  • respiratory diseases
  • spleen problems
  • heart disease
  • hypertension with end organ damage
  • diagnosis of mental disorder
  • substance use disorders
  • thalassemia
  • pregnancy
  • immunocompromising health conditions
  • other disabilities requiring direct support care in the community.

At-risk staff, essential caregivers and residents in congregate settings will be vaccinated in this category.

  • supportive housing
  • developmental services/intervenor and supported independent living
  • emergency homeless shelters
  • other homeless populations not in shelters
  • mental health and addictions congregate settings
  • homes for special care
  • violence against woman shelters and anti-human trafficking residents
  • children’s residential facilities
  • youth justice facilities
  • indigenous healing and wellness
  • provincial and demonstration schools
  • on-farm temporary foreign workers
  • bail beds and indigenous bail beds
  • adult correctional facilities

Read more:
Coronavirus: Toronto still waiting on vaccine supply boost from province

This strategy focuses on the 900,000 Ontarians living in targeted hot spot regions, who have high rates of death, hospitalizations and transmission. These hot spot regions will still focus on older age groups first. The vaccination process will begin in April and is expected to be completed by the end of May.

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The following 13 public health units will receive up to 920,000 additional vaccine doses to target “historic and ongoing hot spots,” according to the documents.

  • Durham
  • Halton
  • Hamilton
  • Niagara
  • Ottawa
  • Peel
  • Simcoe Muskoka
  • Waterloo
  • Wellington Dufferin Guelph
  • Windsor Guelph
  • Windsor Essex
  • York
  • Toronto
  • South West

Read more:
COVID-19 vaccination booking sites busy in Ontario regions offering shots to oldest seniors

This strategy focuses on the almost 2.5 million Ontarians who cannot work from home amid the pandemic. These residents are broken into two groups and those who fall under this category will be vaccinated at the end of Phase 2 expected to be around June.

The first group contains 730, 000 people:

  • elementary/secondary school staff
  • workers responding to critical events (police, fire, compliance, funeral, special constables)
  • childcare and licensed foster care workers
  • food manufacturing workers
  • agriculture and farm workers

The second group contains 1.4 million people:

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  • high-risk and critical retail workers (grocery and pharmacies)
  • remaining manufacturing labourers
  • social workers
  • courts and justice system workers
  • lower-risk retail workers
  • transportation, warehousing and distribution
  • energy, telecom, water and wastewater management
  • financial services
  • waste management
  • mining, oil and gas workers

Over 400,000 essential caregivers will be vaccinated at the same time (at the end of Phase 2), with the focus being on those who take care of residents living with the highest-risk conditions including organ transplants recipients and hematopoietic stem cell transplant recipients.

Ontario will be launching its online vaccination booking system and call centre on March 15. Certain public health units have launched their own system including in Peel Region and Guelph.

Click to play video 'Ontario pharmacies added to COVID-19 vaccine rollout'

Ontario pharmacies added to COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Ontario pharmacies added to COVID-19 vaccine rollout

The Ontario government said it is also working with all 34 public health units in the province to create mass immunization clinics. According to the document, “it is expected that approximately 80 per cent of total provincial vaccine allocations will be administered through mass immunization clinics during Phase 2 and 3.”

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Vaccinations will also be made available through certain pharmacies and family health centres.

“It is expected that the majority of the first shipment of AstraZeneca in March and in Phase 2 will be supported by the addition of retail pharmacies and primary care,” the documents read.

— With files from The Canadian Press

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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‘Still far away’ from Ontarians being able to choose what COVID-19 vaccine they receive, Elliott says

Ontario Deputy Premier and Health Minister Christine Elliott said Thursday that the province is “still far away” from when Ontarians will be able to choose what vaccine they receive, because of limitations with with the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine and the number of accessible doses.

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People with disabilities request priority for COVID-19 vaccine in N.B.

The New Brunswick Coalition of Person with Disabilities is calling on the province to prioritize people with disabilities in its vaccine rollout schedule.

The group’s vice-president, Murielle Pitre, said people with disabilities often have other health conditions that leave them more vulnerable to the coronavirus which should be taking into consideration in the province’s vaccine plan.

“I think that we should figure somewhere on the schedule and the reality is that we are just not,” said Pitre.

Read more:
Coronavirus — Parents of Quebecers with developmental challenges call for vaccine priority

She said the coalition supports the decision to have health-care and senior-care workers and seniors at the top of the list to receive the vaccine. But she says people with disabilities should be included among the vulnerable population.

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“Many people with disabilities have lung issues. For example, I have scoliosis and my lungs don’t function at 100 per cent.”

Mike Parker of Moncton was born with cerebral palsy and also suffers from a heart and lung condition, which he said leave him more vulnerable to COVID-19.

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“In my case, it is a heart and lung disorder, which scares the heck out of me and that is why I don’t go out that much,” he said.

He said that as a person with a disability, he feels overlooked in the province’s vaccine rollout plans.

“Us the disabled, we are not even mentioned, so it is upsetting,” he said.

Click to play video 'COVID-19 long haulers denied disability insurance claims'

COVID-19 long haulers denied disability insurance claims

COVID-19 long haulers denied disability insurance claims

People with disabilities are also not specifically listed in Nova Scotia’s vaccine rollout plans.

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Pitre said many people with disabilities have been housebound for months, which is impacting their mental health.

“Many people have been isolating since last year, I mean, since the beginning of the pandemic because they are afraid to go out,” she said.

Pitre said has spoken to her local MLA several times on the matter but hasn’t heard back yet.

“We are waiting on a response,” she said.

Read more:
People with disabilities, autism carry a heavier pandemic burden, advocates say

On Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for the Department of Health, Shawn Berry, said in an email to Global News that long-term care workers and residents and health-care workers are the priority and the province “will be providing more details in the coming weeks about the next groups in its vaccination roll out plans.”

Meanwhile, Parker said his shot cannot come soon enough.

“I am afraid that if I get (COVID-19) chances are I can’t say if I would survive or not. It is 50/50 with me,” he said.


© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Ontario dental association calls for early access to COVID-19 vaccine for dentists, staff

The Ontario Dental Association says it wants the provincial government to include dentists and dental staff in the first rounds of COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

“Dentists have been on the frontlines throughout the pandemic by keeping people with dental problems out of emergency rooms,” the ODA said.

The dental group said due to the nature of their work, dentists are at direct risk of contracting the coronavirus and should be on the priority list of health-care professionals to be vaccinated early.

The association said it sent a letter to the province’s health minister on Dec. 4, 2020 requesting they be part of early vaccinations.

Read more:
Coronavirus — Ontario dental hygienists raise health concerns about safety standards

“The ODA understands the immense stress the province is under as they navigate through this pandemic but dentists are a key part of the healthcare system and provide specialty care that improves the health and well-being of millions of Ontarians every year,” said ODA president Dr. Lesli Hapak. “We need early access to the COVID-19 vaccine.”

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The Ontario government has released its COVID-19 vaccination program, which includes vaccinating Ontarians in three phases.

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Phase 1 includes front-line health-care workers, First Nations and the most vulnerable populations, such as those in long-term care. The province is expecting to have administered roughly two million doses by the end of March.

Phase 2 is an extension of the first phase when more vaccine doses become available. Phase 3 is when every Ontarian who wants to be immunized can receive a vaccine.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Coronavirus: Ford taps Gen. Rick Hillier to lead vaccine distribution task force

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced Monday that Gen. Rick Hillier would head up a task force charged with distributing a COVID-19 to Ontarians once one is approved, saying that distributing the vaccine would be “the largest logistical undertaking in a generation.”

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