Approximately 5,900 seniors over the age of 80 living in Grey and Bruce counties will have all had the opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of this week, according to the region’s top doc.
“Last week we vaccinated all of the region’s over 80 populations, except about 850 individuals. This week, those 850 have been offered clinics,” said Dr. Ian Arra, medical officer of health for the Grey Bruce Health Unit (GBHU).
“If somebody was missed, for whatever reason, we will have those clinics available going forward,” he continued.
Since March 15, the GBHU has been booking residents for vaccination administration appointments through the province’s online booking system.
“I keep hearing frustrations with the provincial system and the lack of coordination with the local clinics,” said the Town of the Blue Mountains Mayor, Alar Soever. “When people register on the provincial system, how is it that they get directed to their local clinics, rather than being sent to Simcoe County?”
Arra said there certainly have been issues with the booking system, adding that the health units have little to no control over the system as it is being operated at a provincial level.
“Certain towns in Grey-Bruce are identified in the system as belonging to another health unit, and there was another case where at least one clinic was showing to the public as full, however, nobody was registered,” Arra said.
He added that there have also been other instances where the online booking system has not identified any available clinics in Grey-Bruce until July or residents have called the contact number and were directed to a different health unit entirely.
“There have been issues or glitches, but I know my provincial colleagues are doing their best to ensure those are addressed,” Arra said.
“I want to reassure the public. We have 10 clinics active this week, and we will have more as we go forward every single week. There is no need to panic and call different agencies,” he continued.
The GBHU will move deeper into phase two of its vaccine roll-out plan next week, where it will begin administering the vaccine to residents 75 and older and eventually those aged 70 or older.
In phase two, Arra says the GBHU plans to roll out its own booking system to help streamline the process.
“We do have a plan to deploy our own booking system. But we will still be utilizing the provincial system for the age group. That hybrid system or combination of systems, I believe will serve our residents,” Arra said.
Arra added that the shipments of vaccines coming to the region from the province have increased but are still not challenging the health unit’s capacity to distribute.
“The capacity can be distributed depending on the human resources we have. We can up our capacity effortlessly to 25,000 doses per week right now,” Arra said, adding that he does not expect to receive that quantity of shipments until at least mid-April.
This week GBHU received 5,850 doses of the vaccine, and as of March 25, a total of 21,369 doses have been administered in the region.
When it comes to receiving the second dose of the vaccine, Arra said residents should expect a four-month wait between injections.
“It is going to be four months from now, if there are more vaccines, we might see that four months window shortened,” Arra said, adding that there are exemptions on those wait times for long-term care (LTC) residents and First Nations adults.
“It's worth mentioning that the LTC sector will be offered the second dose immediately within the 28 days for residents, staff and caregivers,” Arra said.
As many in the region await their opportunity to receive the vaccine, Arra said the region remains in full control of the pandemic and anticipates it will stay in the Green Zone of the province’s reopening framework for at least the next two weeks.
As of March 25, the region has seen 781 cases of COVID-19, three deaths and there are currently four individuals being hospitalized due to the virus.
The top doc urges residents to be patient and continue to practice the 3W’s - washing hands frequently, watching your distances and wearing a mask - as they await their turn in line.
“I would urge everybody to be patient. The system is there. It's not perfect. Nevertheless, we depend on our provincial colleagues to provide that service,” he said.
Those turning 75 this year or older, born 1946 or earlier, can make appointments through the provincial online booking system for COVID-19 vaccinations at ontario.ca/bookvaccine. Those without access to the internet can call the toll-free number 1-888-999-6488.
For additional information on the health unit’s vaccine roll-out program, visit the GBHU website.
Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca