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'Crisis in confrontations': hot tempers, confusion plague Newmarket vaccine clinic

Province plans to open vaccines next week to anyone 18+ who can't work from home
May 10, 2021
Kim Zarzour

A “crisis in confrontations” looms over York Region’s Ray Twinney Recreation Complex immunization centre, Newmarket Mayor John Taylor says.

Confusion, mixed messages and frustration over who is eligible for COVID-19 vaccines is stoking conflict at the hospital-run clinic, Taylor said at a York Region council meeting May 6.

“There are clinic workers at their wit’s end being treated poorly and, while it’s not acceptable to treat anyone poorly, it’s understandable.”

Taylor raised the issue following this week’s Twitterstorm over teachers being denied vaccines.

Gus Gymnopoulos, 44, posted on Twitter May 4 that he was turned away from Twinney despite a letter proving he teaches at a school in postal code L4J, a Vaughan COVID-19 hot spot.

Gymnopoulos, of Markham, said he booked on the portal operated by Southlake Regional Health Centre and Mackenzie Health hospitals for a same-day appointment, but when he arrived at Twinney, a supervisor told him he was ineligible.

According to the rules that day, anyone 35 years or older living or working in a York Region hot spot could get a vaccine. (The region has since lowered it to 18+ -- a day earlier than the provincial booking system.)

“If they only mentioned they were a teacher and did not indicate that they worked in a hot spot, they would have been turned away,” Lindsey Furlanic, Southlake spokesperson, said in an email to

But Gymnopolous said he did present a letter from the school board proving his eligibility.

“The supervisor said the board was wrong and he turned away many teachers that day.”

The experience was “alarming and disturbing,” he said. “Education workers yet again being discriminated against.”

Several teachers piled on to the Twitter-stream about denials, saying they, too, were turned away, some jumping to the conclusion that the region “despises” teachers.

York Region has, in fact, offered school workers vaccines ahead of the provincial schedule, regional spokesperson Patrick Casey said.

If anyone was eligible and denied a vaccine, “this is unacceptable," he said, noting Southlake, which operates the Ray Twinney clinic, must strictly adhere to York Region’s eligibility criteria.

The region reiterated with Southlake the proper eligibility criteria, he said.

York Region values and appreciate its education partners, Casey said.

"We also value the importance and benefits of in-person learning and the health and well-being of all residents."

All teachers and education staff are encouraged to get vaccinated as soon as possible, he added.

Others, not just teachers, were turned away from the Newmarket clinic.

Harvey Litman, 81, was told he qualified for an earlier second dose of Pfizer because his health issues (two heart attacks and recent bypass surgery) put him at higher risk.

Harvey’s son, Mark, said he called the Southlake/Mackenzie number and was able to book an appointment for April 24.

But when they arrived, staff in the intake line told him he did not qualify.

“My dad refused to leave. They had to call security and York Regional Police, who told him he could be charged with trespassing if he didn’t leave.”

Mark, a retired paramedic helping administer vaccines at other clinics, later learned his uncle, also a postcardiac patient, was booked for an appointment and turned away, too.

In an email to, Frulanic said provincial directives state people with very serious health conditions, such as those on active chemotherapy for cancer, who have a letter from their physician, may receive their second dose earlier than the requisite 112 days.

But some people are showing up for shots at Twinney who are not eligible, she said.

Appointments made for Twinney are done through a booking system where people enter their information, Furlanic said.

“The booking system cannot verify the accuracy of the information -- so full verification of eligibility happens as part of the process once they arrive at the centre.”

A Newmarket mother became "extremely frustrated" when her 18-year-old son was turned away from his appointment at Twinney April 28.

Tracey Buttery was getting her shot at Twinney when a clinic worker told her that her asthmatic son was eligible, too.

They booked an appointment, but when they arrived back at Twinney, they were told eligibility had changed.

Buttery said she was advised to check the website every day to become aware of eligibility changes.

"Who in the h--- has the time to do that?" Buttery said.

Abigail Fisher, 20, is convinced Twinney let a large number of ineligible people get vaccinated “under the radar.”

Fisher, who lives in a Vaughan hot spot, said many of her friends who fall in the 18+ age group and live in hot spots were able to book Twinney appointments during the week of April 19 -- after Mackenzie Health and Southlake released a statement saying they’d made an eligibility error.

When she called to schedule herself, no one seemed to know the rules. Southlake told her to call York Region, York Region told her to call Southlake.

“No one could give me a direct answer.”

In the end, she was denied.

Meanwhile, her friends continued to get vaccinated.

“There is some very serious miscommunication going on,” she said. “I am just trying to do the right thing ... This situation is very inequitable and unethical.”

Whitchurch Stouffville Mayor Iain Lovatt said Soccer City clinic is experiencing problems, too.

“It’s really unacceptable to have paid duty officers there to deal with this kind of stuff. We just want to get vaccines in arms.”

The mayors are calling for simplification of the rules and a central booking system for all York Region clinics.

Markham Stouffville Hospital, which schedules under the provincial system, appears to have “far less” confusion and confrontations, Taylor said.

The region has apologized for confusion stemming from differing criteria between York and Ontario rules.

“As we see demand for vaccinations increase, we see a surge of adverse behaviour as well,” Casey said in a statement May 6.

Dr. Karim Kurji, York’s medical officer of health, said things should be smoother in another week when the region aligns itself with the provincial rollout.

The region originally set up separate booking systems to get a two-week head start on vaccinations before the rest of the province.

That served the region well, enabling the region to be “nimble” to meet local needs, he said.

Beginning the week of May 10, the rules will be simpler, Kurji said, as the province plans to open vaccines up to anyone over the age of 18 who cannot work from home.