Grey-Bruce asks to pilot a vaccine roll-out for rural areas

·3 min read

Grey-Bruce is making a pitch to the province to use the area as a pilot to develop best practices at delivering COVID-19 vaccines in a non-urban setting.

At the end of that eight-week pilot, health care in Grey-Bruce, no longer under threat of being over-run, could help support hot-spots elsewhere, Dr. Ian Arra told the Grey-Bruce public health board on Friday at their meeting.

“We are ready to roll the vaccine out in Grey-Bruce under different scenarios, and as soon as we get the direction from the ministry to do so, we will be able to do it,” medical officer of health Dr. Arra said.

Dr. Arra told the Herald and Advance that the health unit would be making a media release when the freezers arrive at Chapman’s, but he did not say what the content of that would be.

All emergency planning has to include changing conditions and consider different alternatives, he stressed.

In this case, for example, having different types of vaccine would affect how inoculations could be done, depending on the storage required.

The province has used the criteria of having pilot areas that are high-risk (Toronto) and hot-spot (Ottawa), he told the health unit board.

Dr. Arra said that Grey-Bruce could be a good example to learn lessons to generalize through the majority of the province which is small urban and rural.

To address the risk of “stalling” the hospital system in Grey-Bruce, public health staff here believe they can eliminate the highest risks from the pandemic in eight weeks.

Then, resources here can be used to benefit and support hot areas of the province.

In that first period, all groups that are high-risk and all health care providers could receive the required two doses – about 52,000 people (about 12,000 LTC residents and staff, hospital workers, EMS and indigenous communities and about 40,000 more people who are more vulnerable because of health issues).

A second phase would try to achieve herd immunity by vaccinating 75 percent of the Grey-Bruce population.

Grey-Bruce is listed as a potential pilot with the province but no firm word had come as of last Friday, Dr. Arra said. Things are moving fast, and he said there is confidentiality with how the plans are developing, as things may change.

Emergencies are constantly developing situations, so Grey-Bruce had been preparing for several scenarios depending on what vaccine would be used, and what technical storage requirements would be.

For the Pfizer vaccine which will likely roll out, -75 C ultra-cold temperature is needed. Chapman’s ice cream has expertise in refrigeration and “they have the will to support the initiative,” Arra said. It would require transfer patients to a central location.

Freezers were expected to arrive at Chapman’s this week, and also one small freezer for Bruce Power. Bruce Power produces more than 30 per cent of the province’s electricity, and has a workforce of more than 4,000 employees.

Another scenario is being prepared for the regular cold-chain vaccine protocol, from 2 to 8 degrees C for the Moderna vaccine.

In both plans, distribution would be through mass immunization clinics, and would not require a health care facility – as in schools, it’s more or less an “assembly-line” delivery, Dr. Arra said.

He said the response of everyone that has been approached to be part of the pilot has been heartwarming.

“All in all we have the ability, the expertise and the legal framework to execute these plans.”

The proposal went in to the province Sunday, Dec. 13, and there has been communication, in general, regarding public health and storage of vaccines down the road.

The proposal mentions working with neighbouring health unit Huron-Perth, on how it might be possible to share freezers and implement, perhaps, in both health units.

M.T. Fernandes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Dundalk Herald