As Canada marked the first anniversary of COVID-19 being declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (Mar. 11), a wealth of information regarding COVID-19 vaccinations was made available to residents of Grey Bruce this past week.
Grey Bruce Public Health chief medical officer, Dr. Ian Arra, provided up-to-date vaccination information at a forum hosted by Bruce Power, on Mar. 10 from the P & H Centre in Hanover.
Three vaccination hubs, or hockey hubs, are now open in Owen Sound, Hanover and at the Davidson Centre in Kincardine. Dr. Arra said the most important part of the hub is that the patient stays in one spot and all the services come to them. This set-up promotes less contact, better cleaning and less chance of transmission of the virus. The size of the rooms and high ceilings where the hubs are located allow for better ventilation and free flow of air.
The skills of medical professionals are best utilized and the hub can operate efficiently and safely with fewer medical staff.
The biggest obstacle to having as many vaccines in arms as possible is the limited amount of vaccines available.
“The supply as we know, internationally and nationally, there are certain variables that are not in our control as a province,” said Dr. Arra. “And that’s going to, at some point, be reversed.”
Arra said a time will come when the challenge will be how to get vaccines into arms fast enough once the flow of vaccine available increases. “We are ready.”
Dr. Arra thanked local media for their diligence in getting information out to the public in a timely manner.
He thanked health care workers for their diligence in protecting the most vulnerable.
Arra presented the three-phase process of administering vaccinations. He said in Grey Bruce, the health team has planned for multiple scenarios.
The first phase is almost complete and includes the vaccination of long term care residents, EMS, health care workers, police, fire and adults 80 plus years of age.
Phase two includes essential workers, people who cannot work from home and people who have predisposing diseases.
Phase three includes the rest of the public.
A series of questions, posted by viewers, were presented to Dr. Arra by James Scongack, executive vice president of corporate affairs and operational services at Bruce Power. Scongack said more than 100 questions were submitted and he wanted to get answers to the most repeated questions out “front and centre.”
Questions addressed issues of efficacy, drug approval, vaccine hesitancy and vaccine-shopping.
Dr. Arra said the process that is in place to approve a vaccine is checked, and double checked by multiple teams to ensure the efficacy of a vaccine. There is no approval unless it is “top-notch safe.”
When asked about vaccine hesitancy, Arra said it is only a very small number of people, one to two per cent, who won’t get the vaccine. Twenty to thirty percent will get it, but later, and the rest are anticipating getting the vaccine.
Scongack brought up the much-discussed issue of people waiting for a preferred brand of vaccine to be available, what he described as ‘vaccine shopping.’
“(Even) if it is partial efficacy today, that’s going to protect lives today, and I would take it, and if I am an older person, I would actually fight to get it,” said Dr. Arra. “It’s something that saves lives, protects families, protects friends and it’s something that is life-saving. I would never say no to it, I would never recommend to a person to wait for a better vaccine.”
For anyone needing more information, it was suggested they read information posted on the Grey Bruce Health Unit website, www.publichealthgreybruce.on.ca, the province’s website, www.ontario.ca or Health Canada, at www.canada.ca.
Vaccine hub opens at Davidson Centre
In a media event on March 11, the day before the Kincardine hub opened, Dr. Arra and the health unit media relations officer, Drew Ferguson, provided a tour of the vaccination hub, explaining its operation and measures that have been put in place to provide vaccinations to as many as 4,500 people in a single 10-hour day, in an expedient yet safe manner.
At the hubs, all appointments are pre-booked, in accordance with the provincial priority timeline, so there will be a minimal number of patients waiting for vaccinations at any one time. Residents coming in to be vaccinated are directed to a registration area (located on the left side of the above photo). From there, they line up in front of either A, B, C, D, E or F lines, and are then directed to a pod, where they remain for the course of their vaccination. Distancing is enforced throughout the process.
In production-line fashion, one vaccinator can operate an entire row of pods. It’s a very efficient process, set up to handle 90 people per hour, per row. Accommodations have been made for seniors, who might be a little slower making their way into the centre.
“Patient-centred care is the main concept here,” said Dr. Arra. “Everything comes to the patient; they are the centre of care.”
After receiving the shot, and remaining in their pod for a 15-minute waiting period, patients will be directed out an exit or through the open garage door at the back of the gymnasium, where they can return to their vehicles or be picked up.
After each pod is used, it is wiped down and made ready for the next person.
The hours of operation for the hub will be determined, in large part, by the amount of vaccine that is available.
“The vaccine supply remains the main barrier for the whole process,” said Dr. Arra. “We are ready, as soon as we receive vaccine, we are ready.”
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are currently the two vaccines used at the Davidson hub.
A video is available on YouTube that walks people through the entire process, Grey Bruce Vaccine Hub Step by Step Tour.
The hockey hub model is considered to be so innovative that Dr. Arra is receiving requests for information and meetings from across the province, Manitoba and even Australia.
New landing page on GBPH website
On March 12, the health unit announced a new landing page, or opening page, would be introduced going forward to assist viewers with finding the information they are seeking. The new landing page offers the option of proceeding to the health unit’s home page, or moving directly to the vaccine page. The page went live on Monday, Mar. 15, coinciding with the launch of the province’s vaccination booking page.
Spacing between doses announced
On Mar. 13, the health unit issued a statement that it has received notice from the Ministry of Health of a change to the spacing between the first and second dose of the COVID-19 Vaccine. The interval between first and second dose has been extended to 16 weeks. Based on the limited supply of vaccine, the extended time will allow more people to get their initial dose of COVID-19 vaccine. The change is in line with direction from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization. This 16-week interval for the second dose applies to the two-dose vaccines currently approved by Health Canada (Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD).
The health unit says there is no change to the second dose vaccine schedule for residents of long-term care homes, retirement homes, elder care lodges and assisted living facilities, and First Nation communities and First Nation individuals living outside of First Nation communities.
For those who book on-line, second dose appointments, in line with this 16-week interval, can be made at the same time the initial appointment is booked.
For those that have already received the first dose, Public Health will coordinate and provide notice of second dose in the same way as the first dose. These doses will be scheduled with this new 16-week interval.
Vaccine booking system launched
Premier Ford, on Mar. 14, announced the launch of the vaccination booking system and customer service desk would take place on Mar. 15, and would accept appointment bookings at mass immunization clinics, starting with individuals aged 80 and older. At the time of booking, individuals will be asked for information from their green Ontario health card, birth date, postal code and email address and/or phone number. Individuals will schedule their first and second vaccination appointments.
Individuals who still have a red and white health card, or require assistance when booking, can use the toll-free provincial vaccine information line number, 1-888-999-6488.
At this time, vaccination appointments are only available for individuals turning 80 or older in 2021 (born in 1941 or earlier) as part of phase one of Ontario's vaccine distribution plan. Starting in April, the online booking tool and call centre will extend to additional age-based groups that are part of phase two.
Public Health advises that residents should continue to follow the three Ws, washing hands, wearing a mask or face covering correctly, and watch distance (ideally two metres).
Tammy Lindsay Schneider, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kincardine Independent