LONDON, ONT. -- The president of Ontario’s Association of Optometrists (OAO) says optometrists across the province are ready to assist with the government’s vaccine rollout.

“We know that the Ontario government is looking to increase the public’s access to the COVID-19 vaccine…optometrists can help,” says Dr. Sheldon Salaba, president of the OAO.

Many optometrists undergo injection training as part of their professional curriculum, but Ontario optometrists do not have the authority to administer injections under the Optometry Act.

Salaba is asking for that act to be amended.

“It would require a legislative change, I know (the government) has made changes to nurse practitioners as well as pharmacy assistants to allow them to provide vaccinations…the government can do that fairly quickly we just need their action.”

Dr. Wes McCann, optometrist at Upper Richmond Optometry in Arva, Ont. says he is ready to jump in and help.

“OAO reached out to the Ministry of Health and said, we are ready, willing and able to be on the front lines to help deploy vaccinations to Ontarians.”

McCann says optometrists in London have access to a large portion of the population, including the most vulnerable patients.

“We are a great access point for patients, especially our seniors to come in and have a safe space to get their vaccine done and be on their way.”

Optometrists who want to help the Ministry of Health provide vaccines, say they can administer doses safely in-office or at a vaccination site.

“I see patients who are worried about leaving their house in the first place, if they are already coming to us for a routine health exam, it’s a perfect opportunity to deploy the vaccine.”

Just as Quebec is actively marshaling optometrists and other allied health-care professionals to increase its pool of potential labour, the OAO says Ontario can look to optometrists as an accessible force to administer vaccinations safely.

“Many optometrists have been trained in injections. The University of Waterloo, which is the only English-speaking school for optometrists in Canada, has been teaching injectables for over a decade…we just need the government's approval.”

With vaccination delays across the province, Salaba suspects there will be a ‘mad rush’ to get as many people vaccinated as possible when regions like London, Ont. receive mass shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine in early spring and summer.

“It should be all hands on deck…I anticipate there is going to be a bottleneck and we are going to need the human health care resources…The more people you have in your workforce to provide those vaccines the better off we will be.”

Salaba and McCann say optometrists are willing to be ‘flexible’ and work with the government to get more people vaccinated.