COVID-19 vaccines are a tough find in Haliburton County

By James Matthews, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Some pharmacies are still waiting for the latest COVID-19 vaccine in Haliburton County.

That’s despite the provincial government’s advisory to get the needle as soon as possible and assurances that the vaccine would be available by the end of September or beginning of October for vulnerable people health-wise.

The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge Health Unit issued an advisory Oct. 3 to inform residents that the XBB.1.5 COVID-19 vaccine will be available for those at high risk and those aged 65 years and over.

“The Ministry of Health released its COVID-19 Vaccine Guidance which recommends a dose of the XBB 1.5-containing COVID-19 mRNA vaccine, providing protection for the new Omicron XBB variant,” the public health advisory stated. “Residents who have not been previously vaccinated can receive the XBB.1.5 COVID-19 vaccine to start the series.”

The provincial Ministry of Health and Long-term Care recommends people update their fall vaccinations for COVID-19 and influenza as soon as the jabs are available.

It was anticipated that the shots would have been available at the end of September or the beginning of October for hospital patients and staff and residents of long-term care facilities.

People high at risk for flu-related health complications and first responders were also urged to get the jab at the beginning of October.

Vaccines for the general population is expected to be available by the end of October.

The Ministry of Health said in a mid-September press release that staying safe during this respiratory illness season by way of the necessary vaccines will prevent visits to hospitals.

“Our government is making sure Ontarians can connect to tools they need to keep themselves and their loved ones safe and healthy throughout fall respiratory season,” said Health Minister Sylvia Jones.

“We are working with our partners across the health care system to continue to support hospitals and their staff while making it easier for people to access the care they need, in their community.”

But the things is, there seems to nary a COVID-19 vaccine to be found at many pharmacies in Haliburton County.

Ashley Beaulac, the manager of communications for Dr. Natalie Bocking, the region’s medical officer of health, said the public health unit is still awaiting word about vaccines.

“We haven’t received any word yet from the province in respect to the COVID-19 vaccine for the general public,” Beaulac said, and added that there’s been no information about the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine either.

Bocking told the unit’s board members Oct. 19 that influenza season has started in the region with the confirmation of a pair of cases within the health unit’s territory. Based on reported symptoms, there’s a moderate increase in cases so far this year compared to last year.

But the increase is at levels that are somewhat expected, Bocking said.

“This doesn’t mean we won’t start to see a further increase,” she said. “I think we’re still only at the beginning.”

Shots for influenza are available at some pharmacies in the county. And the COVID-19 vaccine just arrived at the Haliburton Highland Pharmacy. So recently, in fact, that the pharmacist there said Oct. 20 that they’re yet to be unpacked for distribution.

COVID-19 shots are available at the Shoppers Drug Mart in Haliburton, but staff at the Rexall say it’s a needle they’re still waiting to receive.

At the Minden Pharmasave, the flu shot is just starting to roll in but there are no shots for COVID-19. And the pharmacy at Highlands Remedy’s in Minden shares that circumstance.

“Stay up to date with your COVID-19 vaccinations, get an annual flu shot when it becomes available, stay home when you feel sick, wash your hands often and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze,” said Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health.

“COVID-19 activity is rising with new variants circulating and other seasonal respiratory illnesses are expected early this year. These small decisions are proven to have a big impact on keeping everyone in our communities safe and healthy.”