Windsor

Cross-border tunnel vaccinations for Canadians — by pharmacists on U.S. side of a line — closer to reality

Mayor Drew Dilkens's idea to get Canadians vaccinated against COVID-19 in the Windsor-Detroit tunnel has moved closer to reality with the tunnel corporation approving closure of the Ontario side of the border. The federal health minister's office says there are enough vaccines in Canada.

Tunnel corporation OK's closure of Windsor side but Ottawa encourages mayor to get more doses from Ontario

The Windsor-Detroit Tunnel Corporation on Wednesday approved the closure of the Ontario side of the tunnel, for clinics to get U.S. COVID-19 vaccines into Canadians' arms. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens's idea to hold COVID-19 vaccination clinics in the tunnel linking the southwestern Ontario city with Detroit moved closer to reality Wednesday.

The Windsor-Detroit Tunnel Corporation unanimously approved the closure of the Canadian side of the tunnel, clearing a hurdle for the mayor's plan to get U.S. vaccines into the arms of Canadians. 

"Your feet will be firmly planted in Canada and the pharmacist's feet will be firmly planted in the U.S., and they'll just reach across and give you the vaccine," said Dilkens.

Last week, the mayor set up a wait list for Windsor residents interested in receiving their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Since then, nearly 6,000 people have signed up.

Dilkens came up with the tunnel idea after he and other Windsor officials had contacted the federal government to request access to unused U.S. vaccines that were on the verge of expiring. Ottawa wouldn't sign off on his other suggestions, including busing residents to Detroit to get vaccinated (the land border has been closed to non-essential travel since March 2020) or a drive-thru clinic. 

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens last month pitched the idea of using the tunnel as a vaccine site, after his other suggestions weren't accepted by Ottawa. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

"We know doses are going in the garbage," said Dilkens. "We know doses are expiring, and what we're trying to do is marry up the people who are on the wait list here with the doses that are about to expire." 

Line to be painted

Dilkens said a line to clearly mark the border between the two countries will be painted later this week. 

We're telling people the pathway out of this is to get fully vaccinated, and you have people who are trying to do that, and they're being denied the opportunity to get their full vaccine when it's being offered to them.- Drew Dilkens, mayor of Windsor, Ont.

"This was not the optimal place to do it, but given no other choice, we're prepared to do it," said Dilkens. 

"Everyone will know, when they get there what side of the line they have to stay on."

The vaccines from Michigan will only be offered to Canadians who have had a first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca-Oxford. 

A date has not yet been set, but Dilkens said the logistics will be organized and he hopes to have more concrete information by next week. 

No quarantine reprieve for getting U.S. shots 

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

Dilkens, along with Windsor Regional Hospital CEO David Musyj, had also been pushing for cross-border vaccine use without requiring people entering Canada from another country to quarantine for 14 days. 

Last month, the Public Health Agency of Canada clarified previous reports, saying Canadians looking to drive across the border to the United States for the sole purpose of getting a COVID-19 vaccine are not exempt from mandatory quarantine upon their return.

Dilkens said he does not need PHAC's authorization or blessing to give U.S. vaccines to an Ontario resident.  

"Every city in every province is under a declared state of emergency, and we're telling people the pathway out of this is to get fully vaccinated and you have people who are trying to do that, and they're being denied the opportunity to get their full vaccine when it's being offered to them." 

Focus on getting doses from Ontario: Hajdu

The federal government, however, says there are enough vaccines in Canada.

"We've delivered nearly 28 million vaccine doses across Canada, including over 11 million doses to Ontario, with millions more arriving in the coming weeks," a spokesperson for Health Minister Patty Hajdu said in a statement.

The minister's office also pointed CBC News to a statement Hajdu made in the House of Commons last week on the issue of cross-border vaccination.

Hajdu said the Canadian and U.S. governments are working closely to manage travel at the border, and she would encourage Windsor's mayor to refocus his efforts on getting more doses from the province.

With files by Dale Molnar

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