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Ontario doctors worry about queue jumpers in COVID vaccine efforts

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Several Ontario doctors worry people will cut lines as shots are administered without proof of underlying conditions

People in Ontario can qualify for early COVID-19 vaccines if they have an underlying health condition listed by province

Ontario vaccinations for people with specific underlying health conditions begin in April

Will Ontario’s honour system for COVID-19 vaccinations for people with underlying health conditions lead to queue jumping?

Several Ontario doctors are worried that is exactly what is going to happen.

The province has announced a list of 24 underlying health conditions that qualify people for the early COVID-19 shots. However, people will not have to provide proof of these conditions when getting vaccinated, according to Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott.

While she says she believes most people will come to the clinics when they are permitted and not take advantage of the honour system, experts contend that the process will only encourage people to lie and get the shot earlier than they should.

Dr. Michael Warner, head of critical care at Toronto’s Michael Garron Hospital, says relying on the honour system simply won’t work.

“We’ve seen what’s happened when there’s different public health restrictions across borders, people go shopping, and the same will happen with vaccinations,” said Warner. “Except this time it is not just the possible spread of COVID, it’s true life-saving medicine that will not be provided to patients who need it.

“If we don’t have a structure, if we don’t have a framework, if we don’t have true criteria that can be enforced and checked, people will jump the queue and the people who really need the vaccine will have to wait,” he added.

Elliott says she’ll be relying on local public health unit staff for screening to determine if people truly qualify for the shots.

“We haven’t run into very many of those situations,” the health minister said. “People are following the rules, they are coming in at the appropriate time, they’re being very patient, and they want to make sure that people who are the most at risk are going to be given their vaccinations first.”

Vaccinations for people with specific underlying health conditions begin in April.

The first shots for seniors over 80 at mass vaccination clinics will begin in Durham Region on Tuesday. Vaccinations for those 80 and older got underway in the other three Greater Toronto Area regions outside of the city last week.

Toronto has also announced three mass vaccination clinics will open in the city on March 17.

The jump in COVID-19 variants has been a serious concern among health officials, with many suggesting Ontario is heading to an inevitable third wave as a result.

There is hope the wave will be tempered by the increase in vaccinations and the warmer weather that will bring people outside of their homes.