Chatham-Kent has some catching up to do getting COVID shots to its younger population.
“I’m disappointed, to be quite frank about it,” says Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Colby about the county’s vaccine rates in 12-17 year-olds. “We are 13 percentage points behind the province and I like to see Chatham-Kent leading rather than playing catch up.”
Monday, 49 per cent of this age group had their first dose and 18 per cent were fully vaxxed. This is well below the provincial mark though. Ontario has vaccinated 62.5 per cent (594,585) of all 12-17 year-olds and 31.6 per cent (300,412) have received both shots.
With a return to school about a month and a half away it’s even more crucial for kids to start their two-dose regimen.
“Children, for all variants that have been prescribed of the COVID-19 virus, tend to have milder infection syndrome than older people who have much higher rates of morbidity and mortality,” says Colby. “But that doesn’t mean there is no morbidity or mortality in children. Certainly in Israel there have been several large school based outbreaks among unvaccinated children.”
Even if they don’t get sick themselves children can still transmit the virus which could wreak havoc on the unvaxxed population.
Pharmaceutical companies continue testing in hopes of approving vaccines for kids under 12. Colby says this “would really plug a large hole in the hull which is a source of tremendous leakage. We need to get them vaccinated too.”
Vaccine uptake in Chatham-Kent’s adult population is more in line with Ontario averages. There’s 76 per cent of local residents who’ve received one dose and 61 per cent with two. Provincially 80.1 per cent (9,680,022) of adults have their first shot and 63.1 per cent (7,623,393) are fully dosed.
But Colby notes that eagerness for first doses has stalled a bit. Chatham has hovered in the mid to high 60,000 first dose range for several weeks now.
“I don’t know whether they think the pandemic is over or whether they’re not really at risk for severe disease – neither of which is true. We need to make sure that we get those people vaccinated,” he says of the holdouts.
“I’m very concerned. We’ve made it very easy for everybody to come in. You don’t need an appointment at all, you just walk right into the Bradley Centre and you can get your first dose at any time.”
Colby wants Chatham-Kent to avoid the fate of areas like Grey-Bruce, where Delta variant cases have recently skyrocketed.
“With the Delta variant looming I really didn’t think there would be any lack of motivation for people to be vaccinated. But maybe that word will still get out,” says Colby. “When Grey Bruce had their huge surge in cases the demand for vaccine went sky high as a result.”
“I would rather see that vaccine applied in a preventative than remedial capacity.”
There’s also the risk of overwhelming the health care system again at a time when hospitals are finally recovering from previous COVID waves.
“If you have a large number of people infected it means that the health care system has to deal with a larger number... Our hospitals are not overcrowded at the moment and we do not want to see that happening,” says Colby.
“This is really a snowball effect of benefit for society and I just can’t emphasize this enough: it’s time. If you’ve been wondering whether or not to get vaccinated, we look at the success rates, the fact that almost all cases that are being reported across Ontario are in unvaccinated people. We need to look at that and say it’s time. I need to make that positive choice and get vaccinated.”
Alex Kurial, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Independent