Pembroke -- Vaccination progress has been good with 72.3 per cent of Renfrew County and District Health Unit (RCDHU) adults having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine but work remains for the 50 per cent of county residents age 18 to 45 who have yet to roll up their sleeves to get vaccinated.
“We have a very low percentage from basically 18 to 45. It’s probably around 50 per cent, so it’s quite a lot lower than the rest,” said Dr. Robert Cushman, acting Medical Officer of Health. “And we’re making a real effort. We figure that these people are busy, that they have young families, that they have jobs and our clinics are mostly from 9 to 5 p.m.”
Dr. Cushman said the health unit is making it easier to get vaccinated for those busy young families.
“So what we’re doing now is that we just had a meeting with the mayors of all the municipalities and we’re going to start to reach out into these smaller communities to try to reduce barriers to access,” he said. “(We are) bringing pop-up clinics to these small communities for people to get their first time dose or for the elderly to get their second dose.”
Renfrew County’s top doctor said the health unit aims to begin those pop up clinics the week of July 19th.
The RCDHU encompasses 14,980 square kilometers with approximately 105,700 residents. Up until now, residents have had to drive to nearby towns like Barry’s Bay, Pembroke, Arnrprior or Renfrew to get vaccinated. The vast geography of Renfrew County presents a unique barrier to vaccine access relative to the nearby Ottawa Health Unit, where 81 per cent of adults have already received at least one dose, as of July 9th.
Dr. Cushman said that while a third of unvaccinated residents may have held off because of barriers to access, others may be hesitant.
“What we’re saying to these people is look, if you don’t get vaccinated you open yourself up to risk. So it’s these folks who are busy and have vaccine hesitancy because they figure ‘what the heck, I’m young enough I won’t get sick; I won’t get really ill, it’s only really old people who get really ill’. But that’s not true as we’ve seen with the variants,” Dr. Cushman said.
At a press conference on July 8th, Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said that “between May 15th and June 12th, 83 per cent of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ontario were in unvaccinated individuals.”
Health officials have indicated that unvaccinated people are most vulnerable to the Delta and Lambda variants of concern, which are more contagious and more likely to lead to hospitalization.
Dr. Cushman said now is the time for the unvaccinated residents from 18 to 45 to go to a clinic to get vaccinated so they don’t get sick:
“So just to take that hour out to go someplace and roll up your sleeve, (it) certainly makes a lot of sense so we’re hoping that we can convince them by having better access but also showing that they’re the ones who suffer most”
Dr. Cushman also called on employers to give their employees time off to get vaccinated.
“A stitch in time saves nine. If you get your employees vaccinated it may well be that you can keep your work site open, you can keep your business going; but if they’re not, you really open yourself up to infection,” he said.
Dr. Cushman also stated Renfrew County residents are incredibly lucky to have access to the vaccine.
“A lot of people in the world would give their arm, literally, to get this vaccine,” he said. “I worked in Africa for years. People would walk a day to get their child immunized”.
Countries around the world are taking different approaches to promoting vaccination. In the United States, free beer or in some states, free lottery tickets are being offered to vaccine recipients.”
In France, one health unit has adopted a romantically suggestive advertising campaign, attempting to persuade young people to get vaccinated by showcasing the “desirable” benefits of being vaccinated.
During a July 8th press conference, provincial Health Minister Christine Elliott stated the provincial government is not considering financial incentives or a provincial vaccine passport program at this time.
Experts are now indicating that vaccination rates of close to 90 per cent may be necessary in order to achieve herd immunity against the COVID-19 virus.
“To rely on 90 per cent of the population to protect you, that’s just not being civic minded. In fact, it’s selfish” Dr. Cushman stated. “Each and every one of us counts and what we do, counts.”
Christina Vietinghoff, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader