Offering an update during Monday’s Kitchener council meeting, Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic spoke to the continuing efforts in our region’s battle against COVID-19 – offering the opportunity for councillors to ask their own questions regarding the ongoing response to the pandemic. Looking for an update or report on the second dose guidelines, Ward 3 Councillor John Gazzola referred to those awaiting their follow-up dose as “Canadian guinea pigs”, receiving immediate criticism from other members of council.
“You’ve reported on a lot of things to do with the vaccinations – just wondering where the report is for things to end as far as the second dose for Canadians; for the Canadian guinea pigs.”
Responding to the comment made by Gazzola, Mayor Vrbanovic said the term was “not appropriate to use” – particularly when city councillors are responsible for upholding public faith in the healthcare system and the science guiding the work of our provincial pandemic response. Vrbanovic added that Gazzola is “well aware” that direction is that there is up to a 16 week gap between the first and second dose of the vaccine, and that may change as more vaccine becomes available with information flowing to residents from local public health officials.
Kitchener Ward 1 Councillor Scott Davey also stepped in shortly after the comment was made, as he said that he could not “let the guinea pig comment slide”, asking if Gazzola would like to clarify or retract his statement.
“Comments like that worry me,” said Davey. “Councillor Gazzola, you’re a person of power; people trust you – and if one person doesn’t get the vaccine because you throw out a term like ‘guinea pig’, that’s on you and that’s a reflection on us as well. I’d ask you either retract that or clarify your meaning please.”
Gazzola maintained that when a comment has been made it “is not really possible to take it back”, choosing instead to have the comment stand.
Vrbanovic again reiterated on behalf of Kitchener Council that, as elected officials with the responsibility of educating individuals and implementing public health recommendations and advice, it’s important that city councillors share “accurate and informative information” to the residents of the community – adding that it’d be “extremely detrimental” if those residents began making choices that negatively impact others.
“We’re fortunate that hesitancy in Canada isn’t seeing the kinds of numbers we’re seeing in other jurisdictions, but Ontario is certainly not the best province – but it’s also not the worst province… so it reminds us that we do have work to do to remind people.”