OWEN SOUND – The Grey Bruce Health Unit has made a proposal regarding delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Ian Arra, medical officer of health (MOH) for Grey-Bruce, provided an update on the proposal during the December meeting of the Board of Health.
Stated in the proposal is the following: “With the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine, the Grey Bruce Health Unit (GBHU) in conjunction with community and health-care partners have the optimal readiness to distribute vaccine…”
The purpose of the proposal is to provide the province with a successful pilot of vaccine distribution in a non-urban centre.
Arra noted the majority of the province consists of small towns and rural areas. The objective is to prevent the potential failure of the hospital system, leading to death and suffering, due to one of two scenarios – overwhelming the hospital with admission of infected, high risk individuals (over 65, heart and lung disease); or loss of hospital human resources by being in isolation (infected) or quarantined (exposed).
Assuming optimal vaccine supply, Arra said in the proposal that these two scenarios would be eliminated by Feb. 19, 2021 if the eight-week pilot were implemented promptly.
After that, resources in Grey and Bruce “would be available to support Ontario hot spots.” These resources include three hospital systems operating at full capacity; public health resources with expertise in case, contact and outbreak management; and other resources including COVID-19 recovery centres.
The successful immunization campaign would be based on mass immunization clinics with large employers (Bruce Power), in schools, field hospitals, on buses and in other settings such as community centres.
One element that’s required for the Pfizer vaccine is cold storage equipment.
Arra stated in the proposal, “Our partnership with Chapman’s Ice Cream provides all the necessary equipment and extreme cold handling with trained human resources to fulfill the storage and management of cold chain vaccine inventory.”
Chapman’s Ice Cream is providing two ultra-low-temperature freezers that will be delivered by the end of December. In addition, the company has a fleet of over 40 refrigerated trucks as well as human resources with expertise in dealing with extreme cold.
Arra told board members that Bruce Power has also put in an order for a small freezer and would assist with logistics.
There are two plans for delivery of the vaccine. One utilizes the Bruce and Grey school transportation system. The second, based on less rigorous cold-chain and vaccine stability demands, allows transportation to pre-set delivery points the health unit has identified and utilized in the past.
Public health staff not only have the medical training that will be needed, but are experienced in operating in emergency situations and with special populations including First Nations, Amish, Mennonites and others. The health unit has over 40 nurses who are able to administer the vaccine, and access to health partners including Georgian College.
Arra noted in his proposal that the higher-than-average number of older adults in Grey-Bruce means a higher number of people in an age group that is “typically more accepting of vaccination.”
Phase one would vaccinate high-risk groups and health-care providers dealing with COVID-19. Phase two would see about 75 per cent of the Grey-Bruce population vaccinated. With a vaccine with 95 per cent effectiveness, this would reach the 70 per cent herd immunity to protect all others.
He further stated the local health unit is in collaboration with a neighbouring health unit (Huron-Perth) to “maximize and leverage the adjoining area and coverage.
“Ontario would benefit from a pilot to deliver the COVID-19 vaccine … Grey Bruce provides an optimal region for such a timely and life-saving pilot,” Arra said. “We recommend the government invest in a targeted pilot in Grey and Bruce counties to protect the health and safety of Ontarians.”
In conclusion, Arra told the board, “We have the ability, expertise and legal framework.”
All that’s needed is a directive from the (health) ministry.
Board chair Sue Paterson noted that past chair Mitch Twolan had “put in a good plug with General Hillier” regarding the proposal.
Arra was asked about side effects of the vaccine, and responded by saying about half the people being vaccinated are expected to have such side effects as redness at the site of the vaccination, and fever. This could be symptomatic of COVID and requires two weeks’ quarantine, which is why, when vaccinating a large facility, it’s done 15 per cent at a time.
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times