Ontario health minister denies politics played role in selection of COVID-19 hot spots
TORONTO -- Ontario's health minister pushed back in Question Period on Monday amid suggestions that politics may have played a role in the selection of which areas of the province are prioritized for COVID-19 vaccine access.
Liberal MPP John Fraser pointed to several areas based on the first three letters of a postal code deemed "hot spots" — but data showed were low on the list of COVID-19 case rates and hospitalization rates.
"For example, a postal code region in Kanata, a riding of a government minister, is deemed a hot spot despite lower rates of hospitalization and death than some 300 other neighbourhoods in Ontario," Fraser said.
"Can the premier explain to Ontarians how these postal codes were selected despite not meeting criteria to be deemed a hot spot?"
Health Minister Christine Elliott took the question, saying, “Any suggestion that any postal codes were selected for any reason is really beneath you … We have been listening to the doctors, we have been watching the transmission records. We know those hotspots that we’ve identified are areas that are having high transmission. That’s how the decision is being made about the postal codes that we are selecting to receive extra doses of vaccine," she said.
In the brief exchange, Elliott didn't address the figures in some of those zones, which were examined in data by ICES.
The postal code L4B in York Region is on the list of hotspots, even though according to the ICES data it’s 290th in the province for COVID cases, and 321st for hospitalization and death.
The area K2V in Kanata, outside Ottawa, is also on the list, even though it’s 233rd for cases, and 427th for hospitalizations and deaths.
Meanwhile, some areas around Hamilton and Windsor had higher rates than those zones, but didn't make the cut.
Dr. Andrew Boozary of the University Health Network said the posture by the government is similar to its reluctance to allow medical workers to prioritize essential workers when they bearing the brunt of the spread of the variants of concern.
"You cannot explain those differences based on science and numbers," Boozary said. "What we have seen play out through this wave is sending the help to areas where there are not fires. And water guns to areas that have buildings on fire where there are people suffering and people dying."
The best way to fight any concerns that the response to the COVID-19 pandemic is to be completely transparent about how those hot spots were selected, said Dr. Naheed Dosani.
"It's concerning to me that there are communities who have not been defined as a hot spot but have high COVID rates and high hospitalization rates," Dosani said. "If the goal, the overarching theme here is equity and to save lives, we really need to be clear about this information."
Ontario's Ministry of Health said in a statement to CTV News Toronto that COVID-19 prevalence and hospitalization rates aren't the only factors that went into the selection of the hot spots.
"These communities were identified based not only on high rates of COVID-19, but also outbreak data, research and analysis conducted by Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, low testing rates and sociodemographic barriers that may result in vaccine hesitancy," the ministry said.
"In addition, many of these areas, particularly in Toronto, have a large proportion of the population living in congregate settings, such as long-term care homes, condominium buildings, supportive housing and homeless shelters, and as a result are at higher risk of transmission and outbreaks."
The ministry said as the situation evolves, more hot spots might be identified.