Health unit excited for ‘most vaccine we’ve had in the region to date’

By Sue Tiffin

The following are brief reports from a Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge district health unit press conference with medical officer of health Dr. Natalie Bocking, held virtually June 16.

This week, people with appointments booked at mass immunization clinics in the HKPR region will be offered Moderna vaccine unless between the ages of 12 and 17.

Last week it was announced an influx of millions of doses of Moderna vaccine would arrive in Canada, with a large proportion of that shipment being distributed in Ontario. While Pfizer had offered the most stable source of vaccine supply, with up to 9,300 vaccines available locally, on June 21 the health unit said a delay in Pfizer vaccine shipments would result in all appointments at HKPR mass immunization clinics, including the pop-up clinic at the Haliburton Legion, being offered Moderna vaccine. Those aged 12 to 17 will still receive the Pfizer vaccine, it being the only vaccine currently approved for that age group.

Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines can be interchanged for first and second doses, according to the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) guidance.

At the June 16 meeting, Dr. Natalie Bocking, HKPR medical officer of health, said over the next three weeks, more vaccination appointments would be available as a result of the additional Moderna vaccines.

“The next two to three weeks are going to see the most vaccine we have had in the region to date, which I think is quite exciting,” said Bocking.

Mass clinics in the area have had ‘excellent uptake,’ said Bocking, with four clinics posted the day before being full within 24 hours, but she encouraged people who might be frustrated with a lack of appointments available through the provincial booking system to also consider receiving a vaccine at pharmacies in the region, with primary care providers or to check back on possible added clinic dates.

Coke or Pepsi, Moderna or Pfizer, take what you can get
Bocking noted that for some people booking a second appointment, they might have received Pfizer for their first vaccination but might be offered Moderna as their second vaccination, and said that in trying to achieve the highest vaccination coverage as possible with both first and second doses, she’d encourage people to get that shot.

“I’d really encourage individuals to take that appointment,” said Bocking. “If Moderna is being offered at an earlier date, we know that the vaccines are approved for interchangeability.”

Bocking noted vaccine selection is being compared right now to “whether it’s Pepsi or Coke,” and said typically when people arrive at a doctor’s office for other vaccinations, they don’t ask about brand name – what is important is that it’s the same mechanism to fight the virus.

The interval between first and second dose shots of AstraZeneca has been reduced to eight weeks from 12 weeks.
“Because we know there continue to be new variants that are circulating, such as the Delta variant, that there’s really a sense of urgency around getting second doses sooner rather than later,” said Bocking.

Double vaccinations
“The current guidance from both the federal and provincial government is that if you have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, that you still practice all of the same public health measures that you were before, including masking, distancing, limiting indoor gatherings, having very small outdoor gatherings according to what step we’re in in the re-opening plan,” said Bocking. The Public Health Agency of Canada as well as the Province of Ontario are looking at more specific guidance for public health measures being eased once there is a higher coverage of second doses in the population, she said.

“We will see that eventually start to ease, but we have a little ways to go until a much higher portion of the population has received two doses of vaccine, so you know, fingers crossed by the end of the summer we’ll be seeing that change but until then we have lots to look forward to.”

As of June 16, 121,575 residents of HKPR district had received their first dose of vaccine. To date, 70.9 per cent of individuals 12 and over had received their first dose and 12.2 per cent of individuals had received their second dose. Of those in the 18-and-over group, 72.9 per cent had received their first dose and 12.9 per cent had received two doses. More than 83 per cent of those 60-and-over had received one dose.

Bocking said that with more vaccine coming to the area and expanded eligibility opening up for second doses, those numbers would increase, “with the ultimate goal really of having the highest proportion of the population having received two doses of vaccine, as possible.”

Delta variant identified in HKPR district
A “handful of cases,” had been confirmed to be the Delta variant, or B.1.617.2 strain first identified in India, Bocking said, in cases in Northumberland County and the City of Kawartha Lakes.

“Some of these have been linked to a contact outside of HKPR jurisdiction, so whether it was an exposure if they were present in another area that had more Delta variants, but we have had a handful of the Delta variants.”
It has been projected province-wide that the Delta variant will become the dominant strain.

“I think the key piece that we’re trying to prevent is that strain from resulting in a large number of cases, and hospitalizations, and deaths,” said Bocking. “With the Alpha variant, we didn’t have vaccines available then, with the Delta variant, we do. I think we’re quite hopeful we’ll be able to prevent it from having the same impacts that the Alpha variant did.”

Since April 1, approximately 70 per cent of cases across the HKPR region have been identified as a variant of concern, largely the Alpha – or B.1.1.7, or variant first identified in the U.K.