'I'm not boosted and I'm scared': Getting a vaccine hasn't been easy for every senior, even in congregate settings

Some may have been missed when vaccines were provided at their retirement homes if they weren't available on an ongoing basis, perhaps because they moved in afterwards or weren’t eligible at the time a clinic was held.

Ottawa Citizen 4 minute read January 3, 2022

On Dec. 15, the province announced it was shortening the interval to three months for all Ontarians, as well as opening eligibility to everyone 18 and over. At that time, the age for eligibility was 50-plus, unless you fell into another priority group eligible for a booster. JACK GUEZ / AFP via Getty Images

While retirement homes residents were among the first groups in Ontario to be eligible for a third COVID-19 vaccine dose, not all of them have been able to get access to a shot — and that’s something that worries an Ottawa man with parents in a local seniors’ residence.

Stephen Matheuszik’s parents live at Foxview, a retirement community in the South Keys area that opened in September. They received their second vaccine doses in July and moved in this fall.

While third dose access was expanded to all retirement homes as of Oct. 7 — high-risk retirement home residents became eligible in mid-August, alongside long-term care residents — Matheuszik’s parents, aged 79 and 83, weren’t past the five-month interval being used at that time for third doses.

On Dec. 15, the province announced it was shortening the interval to three months for all Ontarians as well as opening eligibility to everyone 18 and over. At that time, the age for eligibility was 50-plus, unless you fell into another priority group eligible for boosters.

As of Wednesday, Matheuszik still didn’t know how and when his parents were going to get third doses.

Matheuszik, a manager at Canada Post, was prepared to take them to a community vaccination site, if feasible, and his brother had been looking for appointments for them, but hadn’t been able to find anywhere close to the residence. Their mother has dementia, and taking them to Belleville for a shot (where his brother had found one) just wasn’t doable, Matheuszik said. Ideally, he wanted to see them vaccinated at the residence.

Ottawa Public Health said Wednesday that it offered a mobile clinic at Foxview on Nov. 4, immunizing 15 residents who met the dose interval at the time, and it would be conducting training for Foxview staff next week to build capacity within the home to administer vaccines. A vaccine clinic would also be held there next week.

Third-dose clinics were completed at all local LTC and retirement homes on Nov. 12, OPH said, and additional clinics were available afterwards for eligible staff and residents. “OPH has communicated an expectation to all long-term care and retirement homes to achieve a 90-per-cent staff and resident third-dose vaccination rate by January 14,” an OPH spokesperson said.

Matheuszik remains unhappy about the time it’s taken for his parents to get third doses, especially as case counts have soared and new restrictions have been implemented for congregate living settings in the new Omicron variant environment.

“I just think that they should have … not just my parents, but any of these people in vulnerable situations should have been prioritized,” he said.

The Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility said public health units were instructed to give third doses to retirement homes to self-administer onsite if they had regulated health professionals there to support vaccination. For homes that didn’t have this capacity, the ministry said PHUs worked with them to support onsite vaccination through mobile clinics or pharmacy partnerships.

But Matheuszik worries about those who, like his parents, may have been missed when vaccines were provided at their homes if they weren’t available on an ongoing basis, perhaps because they moved in afterwards or weren’t eligible at the time a clinic was held.

My thoughts are that we’ve got to be especially careful with these vulnerable people because they just don’t have the same level of access to go out, for instance, and get a vaccination at a Shoppers Drug Mart, maybe they don’t have the skills required to go on to a computer and book themselves. And a lot of people are alone, right, they don’t have assistance,” he said.

“How do they raise the flag to say, ‘Hey, look … I’m not boosted and I’m scared, right? I don’t want to get sick.’”

OPH said it has provided training and support to LTC and retirement homes to vaccinate their own new residents, and homes that have the capacity to vaccinate are able to regularly order vaccines from a local distribution centre. The public health unit will providing “additional support and training” to homes in January for residents who haven’t yet received their third dose, OPH said,

Meanwhile, the province announced Thursday that would make fourth doses available to residents of LTC, retirement homes and other congregate care settings, effective immediately, if at least three months had passed since their third shots.