Regional vaccination clinics opened March 15

·3 min read

Southwestern Public Health (SWPH) opened public immunization clinics at Memorial Arena in St. Thomas and Goff Hall in Woodstock on Monday, March 15. At the sites, staff will administer the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine to eligible members of the public who have booked an appointment.

Local dignitaries toured the St. Thomas facility last week, led by Jaime Fletcher, SWPH program manager for the COVID-19 Mass Immunization Task Force.

Attendees included St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston, City Manager Wendell Graves, Elgin County Warden Tom Marks, and Chief Administrative Officer Julie Gonyou.

“If you could see, there’s a smile under here,” said Mayor Preston to a small group, referring to what was hidden behind his mask. “We’re starting to see that it’s the beginning of the end.”

The first doses of the vaccine will be given to seniors over 80, Indigenous adults over 55 and eligible frontline healthcare workers.

The clinic consists of a screening area, where visitors will be asked if they have travelled or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. There is signage and directional markers to lead visitors through the facility.

After the screening area, visitors will be led to a registration booth. There is an estimated five-minute check-in process, said Ms. Fletcher.

There is a waiting area with rows of distanced chairs, followed by a vaccination area with 36 stations staffed by 12 qualified vaccinators. Vaccinators will have mobile carts and move between stations.

SWPH trained staff monitor those in a post vaccination area for any adverse effects experienced after immunization.

Visitors will receive a record card of their vaccination at the checkout area. “This is the real celebratory spot, where people leave and they’re so pleased they were able to access this vaccine,” said Ms. Fletcher. The vaccination process is estimated to take about 30-45 minutes.

Visitors are routinely booked for their second appointment 112 days after the first vaccination.

Both clinics have an ultra-low-temperature freezer to store the vaccine.

“We cannot waste a single dose. We will not leave here with a dose that could potentially be waste,” said Ms. Fletcher.

Daily, 40-45 staff will work at the facility, including vaccinators, registration and checkout workers, runners and “floaters”.

Clinic hours will vary, starting between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., then gradually moving to 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

“As the vaccine opens up, the goal is to be running as long a day as we possibly can,” said SWPH Chief Executive Officer Cynthia St. John. We have to consider staff safety, and so forth, but the idea is that it won't be an 8:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the long run. It’s going to be longer hours than that.”

SWPH is planning to vaccinate upwards of 160,000 people in its coverage area, added Ms. Fletcher.

Currently, Ontario vaccinations are in the “Phase 1” stage of a three-phase plan, with eligibility being: adults aged 80 and older; all long-term care home residents, staff and essential caregivers; hospital and acute care staff in frontline roles; Indigenous adults 55 and older; residents and staff in congregate living facilities; community and patient-facing health care workers; and medical first responders.

Phase 2 is expected to begin in April with expanded eligibility criteria including: adults 60 to 79; those with chronic conditions; those not able to work from home and at-risk populations.

Those eligible can book their vaccination appointment by calling 226-289-3560 (Monday to Sunday, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.) or online at www.covidvaccinelm.ca.

Veronica Reiner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Aylmer Express