Windsor mayor pitches plan to vaccinate Canadians in the middle of international tunnel
WINDSOR, ONT. -- Bringing surplus vaccine from Michigan to Canada didn’t work.
Trying to bring Canadians stateside for the jab isn’t working, either.
But Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens isn’t quitting there and is now exploring alternative options that could include getting a COVID vaccine in the middle of the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel.
It’s been closed to all but essential traffic since March 2020, but Dilkens believes the tunnel — jointly owned by the cities of Windsor and Detroit — could be the solution.
“We have the opportunity to walk people right up to the border line and paint a line in the road in the middle of the tunnel and bring people down there to get vaccinated with their feet firmly planted on the Canadian side of the line, and the US vaccinator pushing their US vaccine which would otherwise go into the garbage, into the arms of Canadians,” says Dilkens.
It’s the latest effort from the mayor to get more COVID shots into arms — after the Canadian government and US Customs and Border Protection shut down previous appeals to provide surplus vaccines from the Detroit area to Canadians without a need to quarantine upon return.
The Canadian government remains silent on an appeal from Windsor Regional CEO David Musyj to send surplus vaccines over the border.
Unwilling to stand down, Dilkens is even in talks with the Ambassador Bridge to bring Windsor residents to a secured area on the Detroit side of the bridge to deliver COVID vaccines in a mobile clinic without even going through customs.
“Golly, this is like liquid gold. Don’t throw it in the garbage,” Dilkens tells CTV News. “Let’s figure out how to get it and pump it into the arms of people who are patiently waiting in Windsor.”
His persistence is rooted in a desire to achieve two-dose, 75 per cent vaccine coverage — so the border can reopen sooner, rather than later.
“I hope, sooner rather than later someone says, ‘you know what? They’re right down there. Maybe we’re missing something. That the intelligence on the ground from the elected officials, maybe they’ve got a better-calibrated response than we can think of from a perch in Ottawa,’” Dilkens says.
It’s the same message from Windsor-West MP Brian Masse.
“To me, these are missed opportunities for human health,” says Masse.
The New Democrat has been pushing the federal government to launch a safe border task force that would include local stakeholder knowledge to enhance cross-border opportunities like sharing vaccines.
Masse wrote a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to consider the “unique opportunity” to deliver vaccines in the tunnel without anyone crossing international boundaries.
“We’re doing things from the position of trying to find solutions, versus the position the (government has) is gestures and trying to shut things down and that doesn’t work for communities like Windsor, where we know how to fight,” says Masse.
The Windsor-Essex Chamber of Commerce voiced their support for the idea in a statement issued Wednesday saying, “with so many Canadian lives at stake and the economic well-being of millions of Canadian families hanging in the balance, getting our citizens fully vaccinated needs to be the top priority for governments at all levels.”
The chamber says governments in both Canada and the U.S. should make it possible for Canadians to receive their shot on the U.S. side of the border without leaving their vehicles, noting the proposed plan for the Ambassador Bridge.
“We are in a race against time to combat COVID-19 and prevent new variants from taking hold. Our Chambers call for enhanced collaboration with government to achieve these goals and to allow our citizens to resume more normal lives as quickly as possible," the statement says.
Dilkens is having discussions with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s office and a senior state senator Debbie Stabenow, but admits any plan he pitches will need the support of both federal governments to make it happen.
Neither the Canada Border Services Agency nor the Public Health Agency of Canada could provide a response to this idea.
“The more unreasonable, red tape roadblocks that get put in my way, the more resolute I become in wanting to make this happen,” says Dilkens. “I want to help open that border. I want to get businesses back into business.”