AstraZeneca pilot will continue in Simcoe-Muskoka as long as more doses are on the way

·3 min read

Family health-care teams are expected to continue providing doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to Simcoe-Muskoka patients above the age of 60, expanding upon a pilot program.

But when doses will be made available through local pharmacies hasn’t been determined.

Simcoe-Muskoka medical officer of health Dr. Charles Gardner said the idea is that a minimum of three pharmacies per health unit will be able to provide the vaccine, but just when and exactly where remains unknown.

He also expressed disappointment during a media briefing Tuesday that no substantial increase in vaccine volume is expected to come to this area for several weeks.

Of the 89,600 doses administered to Simcoe-Muskoka residents so far, 4,400 have been through primary health-care teams.

Gardner said he anticipates more AstraZeneca vaccine will be made available through primary care practitioners, extending a pilot program launched through six Ontario health units.

“We had very good success with it,” he said. “We do anticipate that there will be more of this, another shipment of vaccine, AstraZeneca, for individuals who are 60 and above.”

Meanwhile, Gardner said the vaccine supply coming through the health unit appears to be plateauing and there may not be a substantial increase in the vaccine volume until potentially late in May.

“There might have been more of a reliance on the ability to vaccinate people, but we aren't getting the volume of vaccine fast enough to be able to race ahead of these variants of concern,” he said. “I feel confident that we will eventually. … I think that’s going to take several weeks to achieve.”

In addition to the nine family health teams, a second instalment of the vaccine will also include a community health centre in Barrie and another in Wasaga Beach. But Gardner said he doesn’t know how much vaccine will be made available for that program.

The rollout of the vaccine through local offices during the pilot program through the six health units was considered a success.

Sarah Hutchison, CEO of OntarioMD, a subsidiary of the Ontario Medical Association, said she expects doctors’ offices may well run COVID vaccine programs in tandem with their family practice.

OntarioMD works with physicians, Ontario Health and vendors in the delivery of technology in primary care and has been involved in the vaccine strategy and training on the COVaxON system, which manages the vaccine supply.

The challenge, as more people become eligible to receive the vaccine, is accessing and engaging more patients, said Hutchison.

“For some primary care practices, that will mean running vaccination clinics attached to their primary care practice, so identifying those patients in their practice that meet the definition for vaccine availability,” she said.

The collaboration between public health and primary care in vaccine delivery “I think this is a real success story,” Hutchison said.

Meanwhile, plans to vaccinate more people are continuing locally.

Pre-booking for those aged 70-plus have started as 13 clinics continue operating across the area. People who are homebound will start receiving the Moderna vaccine as well.

The health unit is also moving into Phase 2 of the vaccination program.

“We’re getting ready to move in five-year increments into younger age groups,” Gardner said.

That will include working with hospitals and family health-care providers to immunize those with high-risk health conditions.

Preparations are also being made to vaccinate residents, essential caregivers and staff in high-risk congregate settings, such as shelters, correctional facilities and group homes, as well as community hot spots.

The next group includes those at-risk with health conditions and those who are deemed essential who can’t work from home.

Gardner said the education sector does fall into the essential workers category and they will be included later in Phase 2. There is also consideration being given to members of the education sector who may have added risk due to their teaching role.

Marg. Bruineman, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,