The Canadian government has blocked an Ontario mayor’s plan to vaccinate residents in a tunnel on the U.S. border, using some of Michigan’s surplus, soon-to-expire Covid-19 vaccine doses, the mayor said.
It was an ambitious idea: Since Canadian officials wouldn’t allow U.S. vaccines into the country, American pharmacists would come to the edge of the U.S. border inside the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, which connects Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, and jab the vaccine into the arms of Canadians on the other side.
The plan, which was reported by The Detroit Free Press, was the brainchild of Drew Dilkens, the mayor of Windsor. He said in an interview on Thursday that medical professionals in Detroit had told him they were tossing extra vaccines into landfills as the demand for the shots in the United States slowed.
Michigan has scrapped nearly 150,000 unused vaccine doses since December, said Lynn Sutfin, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. In addition to looming expiration dates, she said, doses were also discarded because of broken syringes or vials.
The Canadian government has not allowed those surplus vaccines to enter the country, so Mr. Dilkens figured his tunnel plan would keep the doses in Michigan and his residents in Canada. He even arranged for a white line to be painted along the border in the tunnel.
“When the Canadians go down, their feet would stay on the right side of the line,” he said, “and the United States folks, their feet stand on the left.”
The Detroit River, which separates Windsor and Detroit, is only a half-mile wide, but Mr. Dilkens soon discovered that vaccinating his residents wasn’t going to be as simple as driving the extra doses to the border.
“It opened a whole Pandora’s box,” he said.
The Canada Border Services Agency last month denied city officials’ request to administer vaccines in the tunnel.
The agency did not respond to questions about the decision that were submitted by email on Thursday.
The tunnel has been closed to most traffic since early in the pandemic, but is open to essential workers and commercial truck traffic. In a letter last month, which the mayor’s office shared with The New York Times, the agency wrote that closing the tunnel for the proposed vaccination effort could disrupt trade and would have “significant security implications.”
However, Mr. Dilkens said he had proposed shutting down the tunnel only during off-peak times.
“I’m not trying to set off an international incident,” he said.
Canada had lagged behind the United States in distributing vaccines, but it has recently caught up. According to the government’s health database, nearly 68 percent of Canadians have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and nearly 36 percent have been fully vaccinated. In the United States, where demand for vaccines has cooled in recent weeks, nearly 56 percent of Americans have received at least one dose and just over 43 percent are fully vaccinated, according to a Times database.
Mr. Dilkens suspects that the Canadian government blocked his request for a mid-tunnel, cross-border vaccination site because of how it might look.
“The fact that we had to go to, you know, ‘Look at these poor Canadians having to get vaccine supply from these rich Americans,’” he said, “it would have overemphasized the condition of the state that we were in.”
More than a quarter of a million doses in Michigan are set to expire in the next few weeks, according to state public health officials. Demand for the vaccine is dropping in the state, where almost two-thirds of residents have received at least one dose.
Mr. Dilkens had hoped to use 5,000 vials of Pfizer’s vaccine from Michigan to inoculate Windsor residents, many of whom are only partially vaccinated against Covid-19. About 60 percent of people in Windsor ages 12 and older are at least partially vaccinated, the mayor said.
For now, the residents of Windsor are so desperate for vaccines that some even proposed that the city open a vaccination center in the middle of the Detroit River, Mr. Dilkens said.
“We’re not going to do that,” he said. “In the final analysis, we are just trying to get people fully vaccinated.”