Lorraine Button, a resident at Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, was one of the first people in the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge district health unit to receive a COVID-19 vaccination last week. The long-term care home was the site of an outbreak last spring that resulted in the death of 29 people. /Photo from the HKPRDHU Facebook page

COVID-19 vaccine administered at Extendicare Haliburton, second batch delayed

By Mike Baker

42 residents of Extendicare Haliburton were among the first county residents to be vaccinated on Friday [Jan. 29].

There were plenty of smiling faces on show as some of the community’s most senior residents received their shot, just days after the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit [HKPRDHU] announced it had gotten its first shipment of the Moderna vaccine. A total of 700 doses were delivered to Ross Memorial Hospital in Lindsay for storage.

Dr. Ian Gemmill, acting medical officer of health for the local unit, said staff had been working alongside senior administration from the region’s many long-term care homes to come up with a plan to vaccinate vulnerable residents. Seniors living at Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, Hope Street Terrace in Port Hope and Maplewood Long-Term Care Home in Brighton were among the first group to be vaccinated.

There are approximately 1,600 residents living in long-term care homes across the region, and a further 2,000 staff working at those sites currently waiting to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

According to HKPRDHU spokesperson Chandra Tremblay there are 132 long-term care residents in Haliburton County spread across three sites – Extendicare, Highland Wood in Haliburton and Hyland Crest in Minden. The local health unit was expecting to receive a second shipment of the Moderna vaccine on Monday [Feb. 1], which would have enabled residents from Highland Wood and Hyland Crest to be inoculated, but it did not arrive.

Dr. Gemmill and his team were informed the second batch wouldn’t arrive until at least this coming Friday [Feb. 5].

“It’s unfortunate, but not unexpected,” Dr. Gemmill said. “We know all areas of the province are experiencing delays, so all we can do is continue to plan our clinics and wait until we receive the vaccine that we need.”

While we know that 42 Extendicare residents received their first shot of the Moderna vaccine last week, an undisclosed number of staff at the site may have been inoculated too, Dr. Gemmill noted.

He explained that once the vaccine has been transported to an individual clinic and thawed, it cannot be put back in the freezer, refrigerated, stored or transported to another facility. Since the vaccine must be used once opened, Dr. Gemmill said it made sense to use any leftover doses on health care workers at the care homes where vaccination clinics have been held.
He stressed that staff were only administered doses of the vaccine once all residents had been vaccinated, and only to ensure any additional doses weren’t wasted.

“Our goal is to ensure that all of the residents of these facilities are vaccinated, but there may [be] times when we have vaccine doses left over after a clinic,” Dr. Gemmill said. “In those cases, we are also vaccinating some of the health care workers in those facilities.”

The Echo later learned that 10 members of Extendicare staff were given the vaccine.

While Dr. Gemmill expects a second batch will arrive in the HKPR region over the next week, he’s unsure how many doses will be included. He also informed media that the local unit had been told not to expect a third delivery until at least Feb. 22.

Vaccination targets laid out by both the federal and provincial governments had to be altered in mid-January after Pfizer announced it would be slashing the number of COVID-19 vaccine doses it delivers to Canada by around 50 per cent. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, Pfizer shipped around 20,000 fewer doses than the expected 208,650 in the week of Jan. 18, while no doses at all were received the week of Jan. 25. The federal agency expects to receive just 79,000 of the previously expected 208,650 doses this week.

The shortfall comes as Pfizer expands one of its vaccine production facilities in Belgium.

While only the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been approved for use by Health Canada, two other vaccines – the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine and the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine – are being reviewed by the federal agency.

Dr. Gemmill has previously expressed his belief that the AstraZeneca vaccine would be a “game changer” for Canada. This particular vaccine can be stored in fridges and can be fully administered in a single dose, whereas both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines need to be frozen and require two shots given several weeks apart.

Once more vaccine arrives locally, HKPR will continue with its plan to vaccinate residents of long-term care homes, high-risk retirement homes and a senior’s housing facility in Alderville. After that, vaccination of the staff, essential caregivers and health care workers will take place.

Based on the provincial government’s vaccine distribution plan, the second phase of localized inoculations will focus on older adults living in the community. This is expected to take place in the spring. Dr. Gemmill previously informed the Echo that the majority of Haliburton County would have to wait until the summer to receive the vaccine.