GREY-BRUCE – Bruce Power hosted a special presentation last week by Dr. Ian Arra, Grey-Bruce medical officer of health (MOH).
Where this presentation differed from previous events was its focus – not on getting the majority of the population vaccinated against COVID-19, but on crossing the final hurdle that stands in the way of a return to normal. The way to get past the Delta variant is to vaccinate a higher percentage of people.
Arra commented that “this is a strange juncture…we’ve done really well. But the Delta variant is definitely different.”
If we were dealing with the original virus, we’d already have achieved the goal of 75 per cent of the population fully vaccinated, he said. But herd immunity for the Delta variant has moved the finish line to over 90 per cent.
What that means is a major push to get that minority of unprotected people vaccinated.
Arra said unvaccinated people are the “main drivers of the pandemic.” Virtually all recent cases (95 per cent) have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.
At first, the focus was on getting older people vaccinated – they were the ones more likely to have medical conditions making them more susceptible to complications from COVID.
Now, he said, it’s younger people who are being affected. Recent outbreaks have involved parties, and people living in crowded conditions – both of which tend to involve a younger demographic.
Arra noted that while younger people may think they won’t get as sick from the virus as older people, they are “part of a chain of transmission that will affect someone else.”
He stressed that regulated, organized events are not causing an increase in the number of cases. Even in situations where people contracted COVID-19 at parties and other such events, and then entered workplaces, there was no transmission. Twelve such situations were monitored, he said, which provided a significant amount of data.
This is why the decision was made to enter a modified step three and not to maintain or impose further restrictions.
“It would be counterproductive,” said Arra. “People are fatigued. But we are not out of the woods.”
Thanks to the “robustness” of the local health unit’s contact tracing, “we’re able to control it…we’ve kept a lid on it.” What isn’t happening is the kind of reduction in numbers observed with previous waves. Numbers of new cases were reduced to fewer than five per day. And that’s what Arra would like to see this time around. However, as has been the experience elsewhere in the world, “with Delta, we will plateau at a higher rate.”
The Delta variant is simply more transmissible than the other forms of the virus. Earlier forms could be expected to infect two to three people per case; with Delta, it’s six to nine. Arra explained that instead of one or two people in a household getting COVID when someone brings it home, now the entire family would get it.
He expressed concern that with Delta, there would be “more trouble in the fall” with a fourth wave.
“The way out,” he said, “is a higher level of vaccination.”
He went on to say, “We have had a surge” in cases recently. However, “we have all the tools we need” to bring it under control.
In the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, Arra was asked about the numbers.
“We have all the supply (of vaccine) we need,” he said, noting 75 per cent of people have now had their second dose of vaccine.
There have been three main strategies used to achieve that number. The first is the hockey hub mass vaccination clinics. They have done their job well, in getting 60 per cent of the local population vaccinated. They’re now winding down and arenas will be returned to community use.
“Roll up your sleeves and get vaccinated while the mass immunization clinics are still open,” he advised.
The other two strategies will become more important over the next six weeks. One is targeted clinics – gyms, hockey games and other locations – as well as traditional vaccine distribution locations, such as pharmacies and primary care clinics.
Arra was asked to identify any “gaps” in the vaccination demographics and said it was the 12-40 age group.
“Sixty per cent are vaccinated; we want it going up,” he said.
The strategy is to encourage people who have already had one shot to go and get their second one. Arra has said these people are clearly not vaccine-hesitant, they just haven’t got around to it yet. He referred to them as “low-hanging fruit” when it comes to vaccination.
One way of encouraging people is Bruce Power offering them the chance to golf with hockey great Doug Gilmour. The health unit will also be partnering with the Owen Sound Attack. Arra noted they were proactive in contacting the health unit.
He acknowledged the final 20-25 per cent will be “really difficult.” He likened it to losing weight – those last few pounds are the hard ones.
“It’s important for all of us to do a final push, to put this Delta variant behind us,” Arra said.
Bruce Power’s James Scongack, who MCed the presentation, commented, “They need to get around to it; it’s a priority!”
Arra said he’s heard heart-breaking stories from people who have suffered serious complications or who have lost loved ones to COVID. “It’s a very heavy price to pay” for neglecting to get vaccinated, he said, noting that sort of regret is not easy to deal with.
“Take the 30 minutes,” he said. “It should be an easy decision.”
Scongack asked about the reasons people have for not getting vaccinated – those who have had their first shot but not their second, those who don’t see the urgency in getting vaccinated, and those who have made up their minds they’re not getting vaccinated.
“A lot of people have to change their minds,” he said.
Arra responded by saying there are as many reasons as there are people. For some, reasons are personal or religious. Some distrust the system. “Everyone is different.”
He said getting the correct information is the way to change minds. Spending 15 minutes a day for a few days, checking information on the health unit and Ministry of Health websites, as well as that of the Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta will provide as much information as is needed.
Arra said he’d received a call from a Mennonite man who’d said he wanted to learn more. After he was told the vaccine “elicits a natural response in the body, he was a lot more interested.”
He advised people to “go and have the conversation” with their pharmacist or health care provider. “Talk to a health care professional.” That includes dentists and other professionals. They have the correct information.
Scongack asked what makes Delta so different.
Arra answered, “It can spread to more people…than any previous variant,” adding that its severity is also different. “We’re seeing young people on ventilators,” he said.
When asked about the return to school, Arra warned that if “we don’t do something immediately,” the situation could become more difficult.
As for travel, and the fact mixing vaccines may not be acceptable in some places outside Canada, Arra advised getting the second shot even if it’s different. Protection from a deadly disease and keeping it from spreading has to be the priority. There’ll always be the option of “getting another shot of one of them” if mixed vaccines aren’t accepted by another jurisdiction.
When asked what people can do to help the health unit, Arra said, “Get the vaccine.”
The second thing is to volunteer. He commended the people who showed the province a Canada Day vaccination blitz could deliver 26,000 doses of vaccine. “Amazing job,” he said.
The third thing is, be an influencer.
“Increasing our numbers to 85-90 per cent will save lives.”
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times