Vaccine rollout is progressing in the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit region.
In a virtual media briefing on Wednesday (March 3), acting medical officer of health Dr. Ian Gemmill announced the health unit has completed vaccinating residents of long-term care homes in the region, which includes the City of Kawartha Lakes and Northumberland, and Haliburton counties.
About 1,700 residents have now received both doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. Gemmill said.
“We have now immunized most of the residents of long-term care, twice, which means they are done,” Dr. Gemmill announced. “We’ve started on the staff and essential caregivers of long-term care homes with the assistance of our hospitals. Also, some of the highest-risk health care workers have received their first dose of the vaccine.”
“We are also working with Alderville (First Nation) to make sure that community is getting their first doses of the Pfizer vaccine,” he added.
According to Dr. Gemmill, as of Tuesday, there have been roughly 5,400 shots of COVID-19 vaccines distributed in the area. Around 2,000 long-term care staff and priority health care workers have received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The other 3,400 shots were first and second doses of the Moderna vaccine given to long-term care residents.
The health unit has about 6,000 more doses of the Pfizer vaccine and is set to have those distributed by the end of next week, Dr. Gemmill said. These doses are allocated for long-term care staff and high-priority health care workers.
For those 80 years of age and older waiting for to be inoculated, Dr. Gemmill asked for patience.
“I can’t tell you exactly when older people living in the community or home care will be getting their vaccine, but stay tuned,” Dr. Gemmill said. “It could be happening very soon because things are changing all the time.”
In terms of cases in the area, Dr. Gemmill noted a significant fall in cases reported in the area over the last 14 days. Only 52 cases have been reported in the last 14 days — a significant drop compared to the previous week’s 114 cases.
Dr. Gemmill cited vaccine distribution among long-term care residents and the resulting drop in outbreaks as a primary reason for the decrease in cases.
The outbreak at Caressant Care McLaughlin Road in Lindsay — the largest and most fatal COVID-19 outbreak in the health unit’s region since the one at Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon at the beginning of the pandemic — was declared resolved on Monday.
The outbreak was first declared on January 9th, with a total of 62 residents and 49 staff testing positive for COVID-19 during the outbreak. Of the residents who were infected, 18 lost their lives as a result of the disease.
There is currently only one active outbreak in the region, at Regency Long-Term Care Home in Port Hope.
Dr. Gemmill also speculated last month’s stay-at-home order and the approaching end of winter might also have affected the number of cases. Nevertheless, he reminded those living in the area not to relax due to the declining numbers.
“Things are better, and I’m pleased about that, but 98 per cent of our population still is not protected,” Dr. Gemmill pointed out. “We still have a lot of susceptible people out there, and therefore I’m asking people not to relent on the messages: stay at home, don’t travel, and if you have to go out, wear a mask and physical distance. These are the things that are going to keep things down until the vaccines are distributed.”
Dr. Gemmill added that the spread of variant of concern cases (VOCs) is also a reason to remain vigilant until more people are protected by the vaccine. There have been 14 VOC cases reported to date in the area, including two in Kawartha Lakes and 12 in Northumberland County.
“That is of course of concern, but very sadly, this is just a reflection of what is going to be happening right across Ontario,” Dr. Gemmill remarked. “Let’s continue our patient approach to this because once we get these variants more common, they’re much more transmissible, and that can send the rates up. What we’re trying to do is keep the rates down until people get protection with a safe and effective vaccine.”
As for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, which Health Canada licensed last Friday (February 26), Dr. Gemmill said there is no indication that this vaccine will be coming to local health units any time soon.
Although Health Canada approved the vaccine for use in all age groups, on Monday the National Advisory Committee on Immunizations recommended against the use of this vaccine for people over the age of 65.
“There is not anything wrong with the vaccine,” noted Dr. Gemmill. “It is not dangerous. It has been licensed for people over the age of 65. Health Canada has said it has good efficacy and good safety records, but the suggestion is that since there are two other vaccines, they should be used first until we get more data.”
In the meantime, Dr. Gemmill said the health unit is gearing up to distribute the vaccine doses they expect to receive within the next few weeks.
Although plans are not official, Dr. Gemmill said he expects the health unit to set up at least two vaccine distribution clinics in each of the region’s three counties. These clinics will occur within well-situated community centres or arenas, but the precise buildings have not been decided yet.
“There will be at least a couple of our clinics distributing vaccine in each county along with the vaccine that pharmacies, family doctors, and hospitals get,” Dr. Gemmill explained. “I’m really looking forward to the day when we have lots of options for people to get the vaccine.”
As of Wednesday, there were 24 active cases of COVID-19 in the health unit’s region, including 9 in Kawartha Lakes and 15 in Northumberland.