Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, my question is for Senator Gold, the Government Representative in the Senate. I’m trying to give voice to the disability community, particularly those with autism, Down’s syndrome and other intellectual disabilities. I’ve been trying to get an answer for two weeks, Senator Gold, and you’ve talked about making inquiries. It seems the provinces aren’t getting the message, and it concerns me.
On the weekend, we saw Ontario give priority to adults 80 and over, Indigenous adults, health care workers and adult recipients of chronic home care. Yet, there has been no answer to what the federal government is doing in conjunction with the provinces to get these people with disabilities, who are vulnerable, vaccinated.
I remind you of the U.K. report that found that adults with developmental disabilities are four to six times more likely to die from COVID. Has the federal government made any progress with the provinces to include Canadians living with disabilities on the vaccination priority list?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for your ongoing commitment to giving a voice to those in disability communities.
I have been advised that the government has asked the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, which is an independent and external group of experts, to provide recommendations as to whom should be prioritized for vaccination, and these recommendations will inform both the provinces and the territories as they fulfill their responsibilities in delivering vaccines.
The latest information I have, Senator Munson, is that disabled Canadians are not yet at the top of the list or given priority at this stage in the rollout. The information that I have and the most recent recommendations focus on racialized groups and essential workers, who have been especially hard hit by COVID. I understand that is the recommendation of external experts at this stage.
But thank you again for your question. I will continue to make inquiries, because I expect and welcome your ongoing questions on this subject.
Senator Munson: Thank you. I did talk about that external advisory board last week and their recommendations. If you go on their website, there is still nothing there that states anything having to do with persons with disabilities.
To me, this is an issue of concern for the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who really don’t have a voice. I must say I’m deeply disappointed that we haven’t heard more. I’m glad to hear this, but we should be taking another approach.
What does it take but a telephone call or telephone calls from the Prime Minister to the provinces who appear to be silent on this to say, “Let’s get this job done for those with disabilities. Let’s get them vaccinated. Let’s protect the health-care workers. Let’s protect the parents in the homes of these men and women who are vulnerable to COVID.”
Senator Gold: Senator, I think we all agree that the groups you mention, including those with disabilities, should be protected as quickly and as soon as possible. The approach of this government with regard to this issue, however, has been to rely upon independent and expert advice, and their advice, to date, has prioritized other groups. It’s frustrating for those who are not yet at the head of the queue, and it is cold comfort, no doubt, for me to say that we still have to be patient as we receive more vaccines and as the rollout continues. Thank you, again, senator, for your question and your commitment.