Windsor mayor hopes Ottawa will 'wake up' and support tunnel COVID-19 vaccine clinic

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens says he isn't getting any support from Ottawa on his plan to get Windsorites vaccinated with excess U.S. vaccine doses — but he's still pushing to make it happen.

Drew Dilkens appeared before a parliamentary committee on Monday

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens has pitched the idea of using the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel as a vaccine site. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens says he hasn't gotten support from Ottawa on his plan to get Windsorites vaccinated with excess U.S. doses — but he's still pushing to make it happen.

"It is my hope that the federal government will hopefully wake up and start to work with us on a very sensible pathway to help accelerate the vaccination of our local population," he said on CBC Radio's Windsor Morning on Tuesday.

Dilkens appeared virtually before the House of Commons standing committee on health Monday to reinforce his position that the federal government shouldn't be standing in the way of his idea to use the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel as a makeshift COVID-19 vaccine clinic for the administration of second doses.

LISTEN: Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens joins CBC Radio's Windsor Morning:

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens speaks with CBC Windsor Morning host Tony Doucette about border vaccines. 12:21

Dilkens described the unorthodox plan as "not optimal," but said it would allow Windsorites to take advantage of thousands of vaccines that he says are being wasted stateside. 

"If that's the pathway that can make this work, then we're prepared to do that," he said.

U.S. wasting 'liquid gold'

Around 37,000 doses have been wasted or spoiled in Michigan, according to U.S. media reports citing state data.

Some vaccine doses are going unused because there are, for example, six shots in a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and a limited timeframe in which to use the product once it's opened.

"Those doses would be like liquid gold here. We could get them into arms in 30 seconds flat," Dilkens said.

As of Tuesday, about 11 per cent of Windsor-Essex residents have gotten both required doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, though nearly 60 per cent of the population has received at least one dose since the rollout began in December.

Officials including Dilkens and Windsor Regional Hospital CEO David Musyj have been pushing for weeks to establish a means to accelerate the vaccine rollout by providing access to excess or expiring vaccines from the U.S. supply.

Late last month, Dilkens set up a "wait list" for people to express interest in getting their second doses of the Pfizer-vaccine in the cross-border tunnel. So far, more than 11,000 people have signed up.

Under the proposed plan, a Windsor pharmacist would be giving the needle from the U.S. side of the border to Canadians, who will remain on their own side and therefore won't be subject to the mandatory 14-day quarantine restrictions for returning international travellers.

Dilkens said he'd need the support of the border agencies on both sides of the border to pull it off.

"This is designed to be a very organized event, a structured event," he said.

Crews recently painted a line in the tunnel to clearly delineate the border.

A line has been painted on the Canada-U.S. border in the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel amid the mayor of Windsor's plan to host a vaccine clinic at the border crossing. (Submitted by Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens' office)

But the Public Health Agency of Canada has poked holes in the plan on regulatory as well as other grounds.

Kathy Thompson, executive vice president of PHAC, sent a letter to Dilkens on Monday.

"It is our understanding that actual vaccination, in other words administration of the vaccine into a patient's arm, will occur on the U.S. side of the border. However, if the U.S. nurse or pharmacist reaches across the border to administer it to a person in Canada, that is considered importation of product and requires an expression of no objection from Health Canada."

More vaccines on the way, Ottawa says

So far, federal data shows about 11.7 million COVID-19 vaccines have been delivered to Ontario from the federal government.

The letter from PHAC stated that there will be enough shots to allow all Canadians to get their first vaccine dose by Canada Day.

"There will be weekly deliveries of 2.4 million doses of Pfizer through July of which over 540,000 are being directed to Ontario," the letter said.

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu, who recently had a meeting with Dilkens on the cross-border vaccine idea, said in the House of Commons late last month that there are enough vaccines in Canada for Canadians.

With files from Windsor Morning

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