Ottawa needs a 48-hour COVID-19 vaccine buffer in the freezer, top doctor says

OTTAWA — Ottawa’s medical officer of health says it’s important to keep a “buffer” of COVID-19 vaccines in freezers, so the city doesn’t run out of vaccines before the next shipment arrives.

As Mayor Jim Watson and the Ontario government spar over the quantity of COVID-19 vaccines being sent to Ottawa and how many doses are sitting in freezers, Dr. Vera Etches said it’s important to keep a two-day supply in reserve at all times.

“I want to let people know they can have a really strong confidence that the vaccination program in Ottawa is running smoothly,” said Dr. Etches in an interview on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron.

“The vaccines come in, that we use them and there is usually a delivery on Monday and so on Sunday we usually have enough for Monday and into Tuesday, a little bit. But we need that buffer because we can’t run out of vaccine on Sunday, then Monday there would be nothing to give to people on Monday and sometimes the vaccine comes in later than we anticipate.

“We’re running an operation here that is using the vaccine as it comes in, we’re not holding on to things.”

Last week, Mayor Watson sent a letter to Premier Doug Ford requesting an additional 40,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to cover first and second doses in Ottawa.  Watson told CTV News at Six on Monday he spoke with Ford on Monday, and was asked to send a letter outlining how the city of Ottawa would use the additional doses.

Watson told Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa at Work with Leslie Roberts on Wednesday that the letter was sent to the premier’s office.

“They would be spread out among pop-up clinics, some of the high urgent need areas, also to the rural areas which have a geographic challenge, and some more to our mass vaccination centres,” said Watson about where the doses would be used.

In a letter to Mayor Watson last week, Health Minister Christine Elliott said Ottawa is “close to the provincial per capita allocation rate.”  Elliott said Ottawa received an additional 37,760 doses from the provincial allocation that responds to emerging needs, over and above the per capita allocation.

As of Wednesday, Ottawa had received 717,430 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, including a shipment of 53,820 doses of Pfizer vaccine on Monday. The city says 795,205 doses have been administered in Ottawa.

A total of 663,160 Ottawa residents 12 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine.

Dr. Etches says Ottawa’s vaccine rollout is going smoothly.

“We are using the vaccine that we get in the city of Ottawa as we get it and the volume that is coming through our city is growing. So we’re using it. Yes, we’ll continue,” said Etches on Newstalk 580 CFRA.

“The demand does exceed the supply right now, and that’s understandable and actually a positive sign that when the vaccine becomes available that people will take it and that will increase our protection.”

The medical officer of health says she’s not “complaining” that Ottawa is not getting enough vaccines.

“It’s more of a question of, if there is the ability to give more than we’ll take it.”

Ottawa’s general manager of emergency and protective services Anthony Di Monte told Council last week that Ottawa maintains a 48-hour buffer of vaccines as a “best practice.”

“This means that up to 20,000 doses are held in reserve at any time. However, all these doses are allocated over the next 48 hours.”

“I DON’T KNOW WHY MAYOR WATSON IS KEEPING VACCINES IN FREEZERS,” MPP SAYS

In a statement Tuesday evening, Elliott’s office suggested Ottawa has not utilized the vaccines it currently has.

“As of end of day Sunday, June 13, Ottawa Public Health had 20,388 doses of Pfizer and 3,180 doses of Moderna in freezers,” said the statement. “This is in addition to the 53,820 doses of Pfizer delivered yesterday.”

Speaking on Newstalk 580 CFRA on Wednesday, Carleton MPP Goldie Ghamari said the provincial recommendation has been to keep one day of supply in freezers, not two.

“I don’t know why Mayor Watson is keeping vaccines in freezers when the provincial recommendation is that you keep enough doses for one day,” said Ghamari.

“When Ottawa is administering, on average, 13,000 doses a day, I don’t know why he has so many vaccines in freezers when he should be delivering them out to the community.”

Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Kristy Cameron asked Dr. Etches if the city should operate with one-day supply in freezers instead of two.

“It’s not ideal to have just one day because we also do see emerging needs. Sometimes we have an outbreak in an institution, we have population where we find there’s higher risk and we need to pivot and address something,” said Etches.

“So having a little bit of flexibility in the system allows us also to meet needs that arise and address where COVID transmission is happening.”

The city of Ottawa has warned residents looking for an accelerated second dose of COVID-19 vaccine that appointments are in short supply.

Ghamari took aim at the mayor asking for 40,000 additional doses.

“Where are those 40,000 additional doses coming from? Right now, that would mean taking those away from other public health units, such as those Delta hot spots,” said the Progressive Conservative MPP for Carleton.

Ghamari tells Newstalk 580 CFRA frustrated residents need to call Ottawa City Hall, not the Ontario government.

“I would say call up Jim Watson and ask him why he’s keeping more vaccines in freezers than necessary. If people are not able to get their second doses, they need to call up their mayor and ask him why he’s keeping more doses than necessary,” said Ghamari.

“If his excuse is that they want to have a one-day buffer, well again Ottawa vaccinates about 13,000 doses a day on average, so why is he keeping almost double the number in freezers when he doesn’t need to.”

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