'Hot-spot' Aylmer begins COVID-19 vaccinations for citizens 50 and older

·3 min read

Vaccinations for people 50 and older are beginning in Aylmer, a frequent flashpoint for anti-restriction protests and the only provincially designated COVID-19 hot spot between Windsor and Waterloo.

In early April, Aylmer’s N5H postal code was identified by the province as one of more than 100 hot spots, with more vaccine doses being allocated to those regions.

“These communities are prioritized for vaccine delivery because they have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, with high rates of transmission, hospitalization, and death,” Joyce Lock, medical officer of health for Southwestern Public Health, which covers Elgin and Oxford counties, said in a statement.

Beginning Wednesday, individuals 50 and older who reside in the N5H postal code will be eligible to book a vaccine appointment at Southwestern Public Health’s mass immunization clinics. Proof of age and residency will be required. Others living within the Southwestern Public Health area must be at least 60 to book at the mass immunization clinics.

As well, a fully-booked one-day pop-up clinic exclusive to N5H residents over 50 is set for May 6, hosted by the East Elgin Family Health Team. The public health unit expects hundreds to be vaccinated that day.

Although Premier Doug Ford said when announcing the hot-spot designations on April 7 that adults 18 and older would be eligible for vaccines in those regions, that isn’t the case for Aylmer yet.

“The province directs vaccine supply and currently, they have only authorized hot-spot doses for people 50 and older in the N5H postal code,” reads a statement on East Elgin Family Health’s website about the early May clinic.

Lock said similar pop-up clinics are being evaluated with other health partners and high-risk settings.

Pharmacies in Ontario continue to offer the AstraZeneca vaccine to adults 40 and older. Two pharmacies in Aylmer are part of the program.

More than 2,000 people in the N5H postal code zone have already been at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the health unit. Some 15,000 people live in the area.

A small town of about 7,500 southeast of London, Aylmer has been a flashpoint for anti-restrictions and anti-vaccine rhetoric, with multiple protests — some featuring thousands flouting social distancing — taking place during the pandemic.

The controversial Aylmer Church of God has held services in defiance of gathering restrictions, and its pastor, Henry Hildebrant, has become a figurehead for many anti-restrictions groups, appearing at protests throughout the province.

Last month, an outbreak of COVID-19 at the Ontario Police College infected more than 110 people, with spillover into other regions. A pop-up vaccination clinic took place there earlier this month, jabbing hundreds of recruits and staff at the college.

Lock previously said factors contributing to Aylmer's designation as a hot spot are workplace outbreaks, including the one at the police college, cases among long-term care residents, school cases, infections related to social gatherings and spread among large families and households.

Southwestern Public Health has logged 3,209 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. Seventy-three people have died. Twelve new positive cases were recorded Tuesday, bringing the number of active cases in the area to 182, of which only three are in Aylmer.

But to date, Aylmer has seen 489 cases, giving the town a case rate of 6,527 per 100,000. Ontario’s cumulative case rate per 100,000 is 2,858.

In Oxford and Elgin, 28,423 people, or 15.4 per cent of the population, have been at least partially vaccinated, according to the health unit.

“It will take time to vaccinate everyone in our region, including those who live in the N5H postal code,” Lock said. “Vaccine supply remains limited, so we are asking for the community’s continued patience.”

maxmartin@postmedia.com

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press