COVID-19 continues its swift decline in Haldimand-Norfolk, but first doses of the vaccine appear to have stalled.
The health unit reported just six new cases of COVID-19 last week, with five of seven days seeing no new infections. That continued a downward trend that interim medical officer of health Dr. Alex Hukowich said was reason to “indulge in a little bit of celebration.”
“Certainly our rates of new cases are less than both the province and Canada-wide,” Hukowich told reporters Monday.
Where Haldimand-Norfolk continues to lag behind the provincial average is the percentage of adults who have received at least one shot of vaccine. That figure sat at 73 per cent on Monday, compared to 78 per cent across Ontario.
That means roughly one in four Haldimand-Norfolk residents over 18 have not had the opportunity to get the vaccine or are choosing not to.
Health unit data suggests younger adults are slowest on the uptake. Some 52 per cent of adults aged 18 to 29 have not received a shot, while 40 per cent of those in the 30 to 34 age bracket are unvaccinated.
Haldimand-Norfolk is not alone among health units having trouble reaching these cohorts, noted epidemiologist Dr. Kate Bishop-Williams.
“This is something we’re seeing across the province,” she said.
Norfolk EMS chief and vaccine task force lead Sarah Page said appointments at all clinics continue to fill up “quite rapidly,” pointing out some people under 40 only recently became eligible for their first dose.
Bishop-Williams said to this point, the health unit has focused on “getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible for first and second doses.”
Once they are able to analyze who remains unvaccinated, staff plan to reach out to residents and see what accommodations need to be made, such as arranging transportation to a vaccine clinic, bringing the vaccine to homebound residents, or answering questions to counter misinformation about vaccines.
“Is it because they will in no way, shape or form choose to be vaccinated, or are they struggling with some barrier?” Bishop-Williams said.
“Of those 27 per cent (of unvaccinated adults), I would certainly anticipate that another portion will flip to be partially and then fully vaccinated over the coming months.”
Page expects as senior levels of government release more guidelines about what fully vaccinated people can do — in terms of travel, attending events and the like — more residents who were on the fence will see the benefits of getting the shot.
As of Monday, 46.5 per cent of the adult population in Haldimand-Norfolk was fully vaccinated, in line with the provincial average.
Hukowich said some residents “who oppose immunization for a variety of reasons” count on the people around them getting vaccinated to reach herd immunity.
Despite the gains made against the virus locally, he said that is not a sound strategy in the case of COVID-19.
“This disease is still around, and so I don’t think people should rely on other people being immunized as a means of protecting themselves,” he said.
“I think the best protection people can get is for themselves to be immunized.”
J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator