Question Period: COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout – Sen. Munson

By: The Hon. Jim Munson

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Hon. Jim Munson: My question is for Senator Gold, and deals with COVID and dealing with persons with disabilities. We know that they are at high risk and it seems they are a low priority for vaccines.

The Ottawa Citizen last week published an article about Canadians calling on the government to ramp up federal efforts to vaccinate vulnerable persons for COVID-19. I recognize that the vaccinations are delivered by the provinces, but the federal government has a unique role to play.

The Health Care Access Research and Developmental Disabilities group powered by CAMH released a report last week emphasizing the need to prioritize vaccines in the developmental disability community. A UK report says people in that community are four to six times more likely to die from COVID than other individuals, and there are many more statistics.

Senator Gold, this is an important issue. Is the government working today with the provinces to prioritize vaccinations for those Canadians?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you, senator, for your question and your ongoing commitment to the important issues that you raise.

I think all Canadians, myself included, were deeply affected by the story to which you refer. The government is in regular contact and working in close collaboration with the provinces. But as you correctly pointed out, the provinces have the responsibility to prioritize within their own jurisdiction, and there are differences one to the other.

I don’t know, frankly, the extent to which this issue is being discussed actively at the table. I will make inquiries and certainly respond back. The issue that you raise is an important one, and I certainly will bring it to the attention of the relevant minister.

Senator Munson: Senator, COVID-19 has no borders. You keep talking about provincial jurisdictions and different mandates and dealing with this. In your own province, there are two families I would like to talk about, just very briefly. Rissa Mechaly cares for her 40-year-old son; he has Down syndrome. Evelyn Lusthaus cares for her 43-year-old daughter; she has Down syndrome. They are scared and they are living alone.

I looked at a couple of statistics here. In the provincial priority of vaccinations, not only in the province of Quebec — and this is from the Montreal Gazette — in Quebec, people with Down syndrome are still in a category that’s eighth in line out of 10 categories to get the vaccine. They are grouped with all adults under the age of 60 with a pre-existing medical condition, behind healthy people aged 60 to 69. They are only ahead of non-health care essential service workers and the rest of the general population.

Senator Gold, one in five Canadians has a disability in this country, intellectual or physical. Do you know if the National Advisory Committee on Immunization — NACI — which is in the federal jurisdiction, is ensuring persons with intellectual disabilities will be prioritized for COVID vaccinations?

Senator Gold: Again, thank you for your question. I will make inquiries with respect to your specific question. But again, the advice that the National Advisory Committee gives is advisory, and again in our federation, health care is exclusively provincial. But thank you again for raising the question.

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