CBSA shuts down Windsor-Detroit tunnel vaccination proposal

The Canada Border Services Agency has said no to Mayor Drew Dilkens's proposal for a cross-border vaccine administration in the Windsor-Detroit tunnel. The Ontario city's mayor calls it a lost opportunity.

'I will always remember this as a lost opportunity,' says Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens

The Windsor-Detroit tunnel links Canada and the United States, but won't host a cross-border vaccination clinic. The Canada Border Services Agency has rejected the proposal. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

After weeks of advocating and trying to garner support, the mayor of Windsor, Ont.'s cross-border vaccine tunnel proposal has been squashed. 

On Tuesday, Mayor Drew Dilkens received a letter from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) rejecting his proposal to facilitate the administration of COVID-19 vaccines at the boundary line in the Windsor-Detroit tunnel. 

"After weeks of advocacy and following up on every possibility, we've finally heard from the Canadian government that they simply aren't going to entertain any kind of vaccination clinic on the tunnel property," said Dilkens. "This effectively closes the door for almost 13,000 residents who signed up to access surplus Pfizer vaccines that had been offered from various medical sources in Detroit. 

"It's been reported that, as a result of expiration dates, the state of Michigan has been forced to toss out more than 68,000 doses," he said. "Those are shots that could have gone into Canadian arms, if only our federal government had worked with us to find a pathway. While access to vaccines has increased in our community, I will always remember this as a lost opportunity."

The decision may be a disappointment to residents who signed up to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines from the U.S. Earlier this month, the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel Corporation approved the closure of the Canadian side of the tunnel, allowing the mayor to move forward with next steps for the plan. 

Concerns for security, trade disruptions

In the letter to the mayor, the southern Ontario regional director general of the CBSA attributed the decision to potential disruptions and security issues that may come with closing down the tunnel for vaccinations. 

"The Windsor-Detroit tunnel is the key gateway for people, trade and commerce and any closure at this location has the potential to create a significant disruption to cross-border trade and travel and could have significant security implications," said Christine Durocher. 

Durocher recommended that the mayor contact Health Canada to determine the requirements for importing COVID-19 vaccines or any other drug. 

Last month, Windsor Regional Hospital put in an application for 75,000 PfizerBioNTech vaccines from Michigan through Health Canada's special access program, which is designed to allow health professionals to apply for a drug that is either not yet available in Canada or is on back order. 

Past attempts to access U.S vaccines 

Over the past three months, Dilkens has offered a number of solutions to obtain additional vaccines from the U.S., including busing residents across the border to get vaccinated or a drive-thru clinic on the Ambassador Bridge.

According to the mayor's office, Windsor pharmacists who work in Detroit had told the mayor that thousands of vaccines were not being used and many were about to expire. 

Dilkens came up with the cross-border tunnel vaccine clinic after he and other Windsor officials had contacted the federal government to request access to unused U.S. vaccines on the verge of expiring. Ottawa wouldn't sign off on his other suggestions, including busing residents to Detroit for vaccination. 

Health Minister Patty Hajdu had suggested the mayor focus his efforts on getting more doses from the province.