Those born in 1941 or earlier with a primary care provider in Northumberland County will be contacted by telephone over the next few days to book a COVID-19 vaccination appointment.
In a virtual media briefing on Wednesday (March 10), acting medical officer of health Dr. Ian Gemmill announced the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit is moving on to vaccinating residents of the area who are 80 years of age and older.
A vaccine distribution clinic at Cobourg Community Centre will be the first in the health unit’s region to begin appointments on Tuesday (March 16) for residents of Northumberland County in the 80-plus age group.
The clinic is not run by the health unit but is instead a collaborative effort that involves volunteers, family health teams, and hospitals. Public health is helping to facilitate the clinics.
“Offering appointments first to older residents with a primary health care provider is designed to help to reduce the number of people expected to call the provincial booking system once it goes live next week,” Dr. Gemmill explained in a media release issued by the health unit on Wednesday.
According to Dr. Gemmill, residents 80 years and older who do not currently have a local primary health care provider in Northumberland County can also book a vaccination appointment, but will have to do so through the provincial booking system. The system goes live on Monday (March 15) and will have an online option for booking in addition to a phone-in option.
Seniors in Northumberland with a vaccination appointment who require transportation to the clinic can phone Community Care Northumberland at 1-866-768-7778 to register and request a ride to their appointment.
“I think it’s going to be a remarkable community initiative, and you’re going to see people really pulling together,” Dr. Gemmill said at Wednesday’s media briefing.
In the meantime, Dr. Gemmill reminded residents born in 1941 or earlier with a Northumberland primary care provider to wait for their call.
“Nobody should be calling their family doctor to ask for a vaccine,” he explained. “It will not be the family doctor’s office calling. It will be a community group working with family doctors.”
According to Dr. Gemmill, if a resident misses their call to book an appointment, a volunteer will call back later. If they are not reached upon the second call, the volunteer will leave a message directing them to return their call and make an appointment.
Dr. Gemmill noted he expects a similar booking system will be in place for vaccine clinics opening soon for residents 80 years and over at the Lindsay Exhibition Centre and the Trent Hills Fire Station. The health unit plans to have two mass vaccination clinics per county set up by April, when they will begin vaccinating the rest of the population by age groups.
“We are also looking for another centre in the City of Kawartha Lakes, and there are few prospective venues in Haliburton County as well,” Dr. Gemmill explained. “We are using a series of criteria to help to decide which locations to use. We want to have a space with adequate parking, adequate crowd control, and have it accessible enough so that people don’t have to travel too far.”
Vaccination of residents 80 years and older comes after completing full vaccinations of all long-term care residents in the health unit region. Long-term care staff and essential caregivers, in addition to some high-priority health care workers, have also already received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Once residents 80 years and older have all received their first dose of the vaccine, the health unit will move on to those highlighted in the province’s other priority groups. These groups include adults in the community with high-risk chronic conditions and their caregivers, those unable to work from home, and older adults between the ages of 60 to 79 in five-year increments.
Dr. Gemmill also noted the health unit is still only receiving and distributing the two licensed mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna), not the more recently licensed AstraZeneca vaccine. He added that the health unit has been promised approximately 5,000 doses per week over the next four weeks.
“I’m very hopeful that — while this is the number of doses we’ve been allocated for the next four weeks — as more vaccine becomes available, we will have more access to that vaccine,” Dr. Gemmill said.
As vaccine distribution in the area increases, Dr. Gemmill reminded the public not to let up on restrictive measures.
“We can’t become too relaxed,” he said. “It’s still going to be several more several weeks before we are in a position where we can start (to relax).”
Dr. Gemmill’s advice comes after the the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit region — which encompasses the City of Kawarthas Lakes, Northumberland County, and Haliburton County — moved from the ‘Orange-Restrict’ level in the province’s COVID-19 response framework to the less-restrictive ‘Yellow-Protect’ level on Monday.
“I’m hopeful that people will understand that yellow does not mean party time,” Dr. Gemmill pointed out. “Yellow means we are allowed to do our business in a less restrictive way, still respecting all of the public health measures that need to be in place.”
As of Wednesday, there were 32 active cases of COVID-19 in the health unit’s region, including 16 in Kawartha Lakes and 16 in Northumberland.
The story has been updated with new information supplied by the health unit about clinic dates and times at Cobourg Community Centre.