Mayor fielding ideas for cross-border vaccines — using bridge, tunnel, even boats

Author of the article:

Brian Cross

Publishing date:

May 26, 2021  •  May 26, 2021  •  4 minute read  •  20 Comments

Downtown Detroit can be seen from Ouellette Avenue in downtown Windsor on Tuesday, May 25, 2021.
Downtown Detroit can be seen from Ouellette Avenue in downtown Windsor on Tuesday, May 25, 2021. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

Increasingly exasperated by the apparent unwillingness of federal officials to relax border rules for Windsorites seeking surplus Detroit vaccines, Mayor Drew Dilkens is pondering several unorthodox workarounds.

They include an offer from the Ambassador Bridge to host a clinic in a secured area at the Detroit foot of the bridge so Windsor drivers could get a shot, wait 15 minutes and turn around without ever going through U.S. Customs. Or closing down the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel (owned by the two cities) temporarily and running buses to the Detroit side, where Windsorites would receive their shot and return without visiting U.S. Customs. And if even those solutions aren’t acceptable, the mayor suggests vans could take people to the boundary line in the middle of the tunnel where they would stand on the Canadian side and a pharmacist would stand on the U.S. side to deliver the shot. Another possible solution is putting everyone on a ferry boat to get their vaccine while floating on the river.


“The point here is we have pathways to do this,” the mayor said Tuesday, after recent conversations with officials from the City of Detroit, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, and the Canadian federal government, all in an attempt to pave the way for accessing the surplus vaccine that would otherwise be tossed in the garbage. In recent weeks, vaccine going unused in Detroit has been repeatedly offered up to Windsor, but U.S. Customs announced that crossing the border to get the vaccine would not be allowed, and Canadian officials reversed an earlier position and announced that people returning from vaccination would be required to self-quarantine for 14 days.

The solutions cited by Dilkens would avoid going through U.S. Customs and would make the quarantine requirement seemingly unnecessary. The mayor conceded the middle-of-tunnel idea is not the most practical solution.


“But I would be willing to bet that tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. if I said we we can get 500 people a second vaccine and we’re going to do it in the middle of the tunnel, I think we would be overwhelmed.”

Getting that second dose for everyone is critical to things getting back to normal, he said, yet the current schedule for second doses puts Canada far away from reaching numbers that would allow the border and businesses to reopen, he said. The public can’t understand why vaccines that are otherwise going to the garbage aren’t being made available, said Dilkens. He said the news that Windsor Regional Hospital recently took Manitoba patients into its ICU is evidence how critical it is for everyone to be vaccinated quickly.


“If we stick to the schedule that is provided by the federal government, it is going to be a long summer,” especially for small businesses that are in danger of closing, he said. “The frustrating part here is we don’t have to wait. There is a pathway to accelerate the second vaccinations. It’s being offered to us and we need our federal government to work with the U.S. federal government on a sensible solution.”

On Friday, Windsor Regional’s chief of staff Dr. Wassim Saad sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressing concern and frustration over the “lack of action on a common-sense request that would expedite the vaccination of thousands of Canadians and save lives,” either by allowing Canadians to go to Detroit for vaccines, or shipping surplus Detroit vaccines to Windsor. Stating that Canada has enough vaccine is not the right answer for the approximately 95 per cent of Canadians who still need a second dose, he said.


“Delaying ‘second doses’ for most Canadians until the fall leaves millions of Canadians vulnerable and could lead to a massive fourth and subsequent waves,” he wrote. “If the South African or Indian variants take hold in Canada, we will face new lockdowns with full ICUs for another year.”

In a statement issued Tuesday, MP Irek Kusmierczyk (L — Windsor-Tecumseh) outlined the five weeks of work he’s invested trying to access cross-border vaccines. He explained that of the three possible approaches (Windsor-Essex people going to Detroit, Windsor-Essex people going to a U.S. Port of Entry without technically entering the U.S., or a transfer of vaccine from a Detroit hospital to Windsor Regional) the hospital-to-hospital transfer holds the most promise.


“Like a good neighbour sharing a cup of sugar, it was not uncommon for Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital, for example, to share medical equipment and drugs with Windsor Regional Hospital. This is the focus of our present advocacy,” Kusmierczyk said.

Windsor Regional CEO David Musyj has been waiting more than two weeks for a response to the hospital’s application to Health Canada’s special access program, traditionally used to access an urgently needed drug in the U.S. when it’s unavailable or in short supply in Canada. In the meantime, new research is showing that getting a second dose is crucial in fending off the U.K. variant, Musyj said, underlining the need to get second doses into people’s arms as fast as possible.

“The point is, do at least one of them, and you can do both. You can get Canadians to the vaccine and you can get the vaccine to Canadians.”

He said the federal government’s assurance that everyone will receive their first dose by July is simply not acceptable.

“Why are we content with that? That’s what frustrates me.”

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