CORNWALL – If you live in South Dundas or North Dundas you will have to travel outside of the area to get a COVID-19 antiviral treatment if you need one. The Ontario government launched a program for expanded access to COVID-19 anti-viral treatments last week which included over 700 pharmacies that dispense treatments like Paxlovid. None of those locations are in Dundas County.
Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, medical officer of health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit told The Leader that the health unit had no local input into the program locations.
“We have been trying for weeks to get antivirals locally,” he said. Due to low supply in Ontario, until now antiviral treatments for people infected with COVID-19 were only available in Ottawa. “However now with increased supply availability, we want to ensure that antiviral availability is equitable across all our region and that the community knows exactly where to go locally to get tested and evaluated and receive their prescription in an expedited fashion if they are eligible,” Roumeliotis added.
In SDG Counties, four pharmacies offer COVID-19 antiviral treatments including Maxville, Moose Creek, Alexandria, and Long Sault. Adding in the four pharmacies in the City of Cornwall, there are eight locations in all for a population area of 113,000 people.
In comparison, Leeds-Grenville, which includes the City of Brockville has 104,000 people and 14 locations offering COVID-19 antivirals.
A similar issue happened early in 2021 with the provincial roll-out for COVID-19 vaccination doses. Leeds-Grenville with a lower population received more access at pharmacies than in SDG Counties.
Ministry officials did not say if antiviral treatments are available at hospitals as well. In Eastern Ontario, Winchester is the only village with a hospital in the community but no pharmacy listed to dispense COVID-19 antiviral treatments.
In South Dundas, the closest locations to get antiviral treatments are the pharmacies in Long Sault, or Cardinal.
“It’s about equity,” said Allan Armstrong, deputy mayor of North Dundas. “We went through this last year with the vaccine roll out and I thought the province had learned to do better.”
Armstrong said he was disappointed to see fewer locations in the SDG region offering access to antiviral therapies.
“It’s not about saying that one area should get less and we should get more. It should be equal access for every area of the province.”
Officials with the Ministry of Health did not respond by The Leader’s publication deadline to explain their reasons for the allocation.
Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry MPP Jim McDonell also did not respond to questions from The Leader.
The provincial announcement expanding availability of antiviral treatments coincides with increased eligibility of PCR lab testing for people who are at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
Eligible high-risk groups include anyone 18-years old or older who is immunocomprised, or anyone 70-years old or older. Also on the list is anyone 60-years old or older who has had fewer than three COVID-19 vaccine doses, and anyone 18-years old or older with fewer than three vaccine doses and one “risk condition.”
For South Dundas and North Dundas residents, the nearest COVID-19 assessment centre is at the Winchester Lions Hall. Assessments are by appointment weekdays from 8 a.m. to noon. There is also an assessment centre in Kemptville and one in Cornwall, by appointment only.
This article was originally written for and published in The Morrisburg Leader.