Vaccine rollout tops discussion at board of health meeting

·5 min read

GREY-BRUCE – The rollout of vaccines in Grey-Bruce continues to be an issue that’s at the forefront of public discussion.

At the March 26 meeting of the Grey Bruce Board of Health, two board members raised separate issues regarding vaccines.

Board member Alan Barfoot wanted to know if Grey-Bruce is getting its proper share of vaccines compared to other health units.

Dr. Ian Arra, medical officer of health, answered in the affirmative. In fact, this area has been ramping up its vaccination clinics because of the increasing availability of vaccines.

Brian Milne asked that issues with the online and phone booking system be discussed. “I keep hearing it’s a mess,” he said.

Arra outlined some of the issues, reasons for those issues, and what’s being done to address them.

“Initially, there were a couple of glitches,” Arra said. They were worked out. Last week, when there were 10 clinics, problems appeared once again. Arra said that when people logged in to book an appointment, they couldn’t “see” any of the 10 scheduled clinics. Later in the day, they could see three. “One appeared as fully booked and then no one showed up at it,” Arra said. The health unit had a contingency plan – the vaccine didn’t go to waste. In addition, some people were directed to other health units.

Arra said the province’s booking system does a good job for the different age groups. The health unit has its own system that works well for target groups. The problems with the provincial system appear to be the result of fine-tuning it to meet changing needs. “I trust the process will be refined in the near future,” he said.

Arra said the local health unit and operators of the provincial booking system have been working together to resolve issues as they arise. At last count, everything appeared to be functioning well.

Anne Eadie, board vice-chair, said she’s heard about a few problems in border areas, and noted postal codes don’t necessarily match municipal or even county boundaries. “People were getting frustrated,” she said, adding, “It’s good to have our own system as backup.”

In his update to the board, Arra said all phase one vaccinations will be done by the end of March. People in the long-term care sector have received their first dose, and the second dose will be offered by month’s end. He noted this includes staff, although it was supposed to include only residents. Arra said he felt it was important for staff to have the protection offered by the vaccine.

He noted there has been “good uptake” among First Nations, and vaccinations for those 75 and up started the week of March 21.

Chris Peabody asked about daycare workers.

Arra responded by saying larger shipments of vaccine are coming to Grey-Bruce, and daycare workers are automatically included in school staff numbers. He further explained that these people are at high risk, but people in the age 70-plus group are at higher risk of death from COVID-19.

Nick Saunders, the newly-appointed board member representing the Chippewas of Nawash, asked if herd immunity will be achievable when the tourist season begins. He also asked about vaccinations for people living in congregate settings.

Eadie elaborated on the second part of his question, saying Community Living in Kincardine has a variety of living arrangements, from group situations to individual apartments. “I hope they are a priority,” she said. “It’s been a vary long year for them.”

Arra commented the population of Grey-Bruce goes from about 180,000 people in the winter, to 2.3 million in the summer, which presents a “logistical challenge.”

As for the people in congregate settings, Arra said they are a priority. We’re already into phase two of vaccinating, but there isn’t enough vaccine to complete phase two – which includes the people in Community Living – by the end of March.

Vaccine survey results announced

Arra presented the results of the COVID-19 vaccine survey to the board as part of his update.

The results of the survey of 400 people in late December and early January showed a very high percentage of people follow health unit guidelines, and are positive about the Grey Bruce Health Unit’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Arra commented that the high number of people following the guidelines is excellent – usually, with health unit matters, “if we get over 50 per cent, it’s considered good.”

Younger and Indigenous respondents are more likely to have been within two metres of people outside their household, and people aged 25 to 34 are most likely to have participated in social gatherings.

Indigenous populations are somewhat less positive about some aspects of the health unit’s handling of COVID-19.

A high percentage of people intended to get the vaccine (as of December and January) although about four in 10 respondents showed some hesitation. The primary reason for not getting it is a belief development of the vaccine was rushed and there has not been enough testing. Only a small percentage of people are anti-vaccination, Arra said, while 81 per cent say it’s necessary.

In general, the older respondents are and the more education they have, the more likely they are to say that they definitely will get the vaccine. The most common reasons for getting it are protecting the individual, followed by protecting family and friends, and then community.

The survey indicated people think the health unit has been very effective at providing accurate and timely information. Arra shared the credit for that, saying every mayor has echoed what the health unit has been saying. Arra commended the media for being “very effective” at getting information out.

There was some discussion among board members about the vaccine hesitancy among Indigenous people. Arra commented their experience with the medical system has not led to trust.

He added that a strong effort is being made to change that perception. “We have walked many miles in this direction since this started.”

Saunders agreed. “In the past year, the yard stick has been moved quite far.” He noted that more is happening than COVID-19. “We’re also fighting the opioid crisis.”

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times