As York Region's community health-care workers and essential service workers await their chance for the COVID-19 vaccine, a decision by Southlake Regional Health Centre to offer its surplus doses to a Toronto hospital last Sunday is drawing criticism.
The Newmarket hospital, which has been vaccinating its frontline and other employees at the newly opened centre at the Ray Twinney Recreation Complex, offered some "excess appointment slots" to University Health Network (UHN), which had used up its own supply of the scarce vaccine, Southlake spokesperson Kathryn Perrier said in an email.
"On the morning of Sunday, Jan. 10, Southlake determined that we had some excess appointment slots available and offered to support UHN as we were aware that they had run out of vaccine," Perrier said.
The vaccine must be administered according to provincial guidelines that prioritize the highest-risk individuals, however, when frontline staff have been already been vaccinated or not booked appointments, and surplus doses are at risk of being thrown away, hospitals, including Southlake, are offering vaccines to employees who don’t interact with patients.
"Our objective, while keeping with the provincial prioritization framework, was to ensure that no vaccine supply was wasted. The Pfizer doses planned for Sunday’s clinic were already onsite the morning of Jan. 10 and could not be transported, which is why staff from UHN came to Southlake," Perrier said.
According to an internal email obtained by the Globe and Mail, UHN president Kevin Smith explained to all staff on Monday how employees who don’t work on the frontline got the chance to be inoculated when Southlake offered 1,000 last-minute slots at its vaccination clinic on Sunday.
Health-care workers took to social media to express their outrage that low-risk employees in downtown Toronto were offered the vaccine when so many high-risk health workers, including in Newmarket, had yet to get the vaccine.
"We understand UHN used a prioritization process internally to reach out to their staff to fill the available appointments at Southlake," Perrier said.
Southlake first offered the vaccine to workers in the highest risk areas of the hospital, including the ICU, the emergency department, the COVID-19 assessment centre and respiratory therapists, before expanding to other "patient-facing staff," said Perrier.
"The final phase is non patient-facing staff who still work onsite at the hospital and have interaction with clinical staff. Running a large hospital during a pandemic has required an 'all hands on deck' approach, with non-clinical staff redeployed and working in clinical areas, " she added.
"Now more than ever we need to do everything we can to minimize the risk of team members, both at the frontline and in support roles, from contracting the virus."
During a media briefing last week, Premier Doug Ford stated that several hospitals, including Southlake, would run out of vaccine supplies by the end of this week.
Perrier said she was unable to comment on that statement.