Canada

Amid short supply of COVID vaccine, complaints grow of ‘disturbing’ queue jumping in care homes

After the whistleblower accounts, Ontario opposition politicians are calling for a public probe, rules on who can get a jab, and punishment for vaccination abusers

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While vaccines are in high-demand and short-supply, the accounts of alleged queue jumping for COVID-19 vaccinations are growing.

There have been several complaints of care homes giving doses designated for vulnerable residents and frontline caregivers to the family of managers and owners.

After whistleblower accounts of inappropriate COVID-19 vaccinations at Ontario retirement and nursing homes, opposition politicians are calling for a public probe into misuse, rules on who can get a jab, and punishment for vaccination abusers.

The manager of an Ottawa retirement home has been suspended after allegations his wife bumped a housekeeper at the home out of the vaccine queue last weekend.

The company operating Stirling Park Retirement Community confirmed it is investigating “after being made aware of concerns with regard to recent vaccination efforts at one of our communities,” and said the company takes the matter seriously.

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In Brantford, the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority is investigating a complaint that the owner of a retirement home and his wife were vaccinated, along with family members of the home’s manager. A worker at Amber Lea Place told the Brantford Expositor frontline workers were upset when family and an unknown person were given vaccinations at the start of the day.

“They were not getting leftover vaccine because they were already there at 11 a.m. when we were told to come in. And they don’t volunteer there,” the worker said.

Calls and requests for comment from the home were not responded to prior to deadline.

In Woodbridge, a union grievance has been filed after a nurse was allegedly told to give vaccines to ineligible people and to classify them as caregivers. The chair of the home’s board of directors confirmed the vaccines went to some who don’t work or live at the home, including himself.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath, Ontario’s official opposition, fears there have been additional incidents like this.

“We’ve heard allegations of folks actually taking vials out of the facility, out of long-term care homes, for personal use,” Horwath, leader of Ontario’s official opposition, said Thursday.

“We’ve heard some pretty disturbing stories about people who are queue jumping, folks who are deciding that it’s up to them to decide that they get to have a vaccine before anybody else in these vulnerable groups.”

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Amid short supply of COVID vaccine, complaints grow of 'disturbing' queue jumping in care homes
The Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority is investigating a complaint that the owner of Amber Lea Place in Brantford, Ont., and his wife were vaccinated, along with family members. Photo by Brian Thompson/Postmedia/File

Horwath said the province should issue clear rules on exactly who is eligible for vaccination and when and how leftover doses during a vaccination clinic should be used. She also calls on vaccination teams to be better prepared with more accurate vaccine counts to reduce the need to use up unused doses.

“It’s the most vulnerable that need to be first in line for the vaccine, and to see folks who are flouting all of that and trying to jump in ahead is pretty troubling.”

Sara Singh, the NDP critic for Long Term Care, sent an open letter to retired general Rick Hillier, chairman of Ontario’s vaccine distribution task force, to review the province’s vaccine rollout.

“I am calling on you to ensure a complete and public investigation of who received the vaccine from these homes and whether other homes have been distributing the vaccine to board members, or executive staff and their friends and families,” the letter says.

“I am calling on you to communicate with all organizations that are to receive the vaccine on the proper distribution of all of the doses, including instructions on who is to be first in line to receive any additional doses available.”

Ontario’ Ministry of Health does not discount reports of abuse but said incidents are rare. “The vast majority of COVID-19 vaccines are being administered in the province according to the guidance and information provided by the province. Of the over 412,000 doses administered, we have only received a handful of reports of alleged queue-jumping in the province,” said David Jensen, a ministry spokesman.

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“These rare situations are unfortunate and unacceptable incidents.”

Public health units are working with local health system partners to administer the vaccine. Those providing the actual immunizations are responsible to confirm eligibility based on provincial guidelines, he said.

“If anyone has concerns that a crime has been committed, such as the unauthorized removal of vaccines, local police should be notified.”

Jensen said vaccine supply will eventually increase to the point where everyone can have one.

Hillier faced criticism in December when vaccine distribution was put on hold for the holidays and the slow pace of vaccinations. Hillier earlier said the speed of distribution is linked to vaccine supply through the federal government, which has also had significant problems.

Last month, a casino executive and his wife made headlines around the world after allegedly travelling by private plane from Vancouver to a remote Yukon community and posed as visiting workers to receive COVID-19 vaccination at a mobile clinic.

With files from Postmedia

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