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Ontario auditor general to investigate COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Ontario auditor general to investigate COVID-19 vaccine rollout
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Ontario’s auditor general will review the province’s vaccine rollout, including how hotspot postal codes were selected.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath requested that auditor Bonnie Lysyk investigate how the 114 hotspot postal codes were chosen, last week.

In a letter to Horwath, dated Monday, Lysyk writes that her office has “identified Ontario’s COVID-19 Immunization Strategy and Implementation as an audit candidate for the 2021-22 audit cycle.”

“As part of this work, we will be reviewing data used in determining the strategy used for the distribution of vaccines,” she added.

A Monday Star story found, based on data from Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, that five higher-risk postal codes were left off the province’s final list of hotspots , while eight lower-risk areas — most of which are in PC ridings — were included.

Alex Hilkene, a spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott, said in an emailed statement that the 114 postal codes were identified based on Public Health Ontario data, including hospitalizations, outbreak data, low testing rates, and deaths during the second wave of the pandemic. She said they also applied an “anti-racism lens” to “ensure Ontario protects vulnerable communities.”

“There were no changes from the government,” she said.

“For the past several days, the opposition has spread misinformation and dangerously politicized the province’s efforts to vaccinate 114 high-risk neighbourhoods.”

Hilkene added that public health units can also select their own hotspots, and prioritize them for vaccines.

About a month ago, the science advisory table presented the province’s vaccine task force with a list of neighbourhoods broken down by the first three letters of each postal code and ranked by COVID-19 infection risk. Most of the highest-risk areas are in the GTA, with some in Windsor-Essex, Ottawa and Niagara. Each postal code was assigned a number between 1 and 10, with 1 being the highest risk and 10 being the lowest.

On April 7, the province released its list of 114 hotspot postal codes. All of the highest-risk neighbourhoods ranked 1 and 2 by the science table were on it, and almost all of those areas ranked as 3. But five of them didn’t make it on to the final list. Instead, eight postal codes, assigned the lower-risk levels of 4 to 7, somehow did.

That includes two postal codes in York (L4B in Richmond Hill and L6C in Markham, both represented by Progressive Conservative MPPs) that were ranked as 7.

“I think there are serious questions about how that list was built,” Andrea Horwath told the Star Monday.

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“I hope that this list was not politicized because that would be unimaginably wrong,” Horwath added. “To imagine that a government, that a health minister would actually prioritize for political reasons and not for public health and not to save lives in the most significantly impacted areas of our province is unthinkable.”
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