Dr. Natalie Bocking is to become the new medical officer of health at the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit starting in April. Dr. Lynn Noseworthy, whose retirement in June was delayed, will be leaving in December. In the interim, Dr. Ian Gemmill will be taking over. Bocking most recently worked in northern Ontario and is a public health and preventative medicine specialist. /Photo supplied

Health unit reports decline in number of people seeking vaccinations


The following are brief reports from a Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge district health unit press conference held Nov. 17 with medical officer of health Dr. Natalie Bocking.

By Sue Tiffin

As of last week, the coverage rate of individuals aged 12 and over across the health unit who have received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine is 86.5 per cent, while 83.7 per cent have received two doses of vaccine.
“Over the last two to three weeks, we’ve seen a steady decline in the number of people coming for their first doses,” said Bocking.
For several weeks throughout the health unit jurisdiction there were still about 1,000 people per week coming to get their first vaccine, which decreased to about 400 people per week, and now about 200 to 300 people are showing up for their first dose. To date, there are 23,000 people aged 12 and older across the region that are eligible for vaccination that have not yet received a first dose. Bocking said, “many other regions across the province” have been able to reach the target of 90 per cent of the population having received at least one dose of vaccine.
“I think we can certainly still achieve this across HKPR, but we’re on a fairly slow trajectory to try and achieve that, so I think I would encourage anyone that has yet to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to at least discuss it with your healthcare provider, to ensure that you’re accessing accurate information about the vaccine, and for family members and friends that know of individuals that have not been vaccinated, have a respectful conversation about the risks and benefits of vaccine and point friends and family toward sources of information that are accurate about COVID-19 vaccine,” said Bocking.

Public health unit monitoring local case numbers during surges
Bocking said in terms of issuing public health directives, the health unit is monitoring very closely the numbers in the area and in the surrounding area and across the province.
“We know that at some point in time, when cases reach a high enough level, what is necessary are further public health restrictions to bring those numbers down,” she said.
Other regions in the province, including northern Ontario, have had to issue additional instructions recently such as lowering capacity limits.
“It’s certainly, if we reach that point, and hopefully we don’t, it would be a consideration,” she said. “We look at all of the tools available in order to prevent further spread, especially if it’s reaching a point where it is a significant burden on our acute care system, because we certainly wouldn’t want to see things like surgeries being cancelled or that sort of thing in this region.”

HKPR “faring quite well”
Since the start of the pandemic, 2,522 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded across the HKPR region, with 14 unresolved cases – one in Haliburton County – at the time of last week’s media briefing. Since the beginning of the school year, a total of 25 cases have been identified among the school-aged population or staff, none related to spread within schools but which have resulted in quarantining of classrooms and bus cohorts. The incidence rate as of Nov. 17 was 6.9 cases per 100,000, and test positivity as of Nov. 9 was less than one per cent, sitting at about 0.7 per cent. Some health unit jurisdictions are recording an incidence rate of 100 cases per 100,000.
“Really, overall for HKPR jurisdiction we are faring quite well compared to other areas in the province,” said Bocking. She noted the overall numbers of cases in the province have started to increase with some health unit areas experiencing a “significant surge,” and some jurisdictions recording the highest number of cases they’ve had to date.
“I think, knock on wood, there are things we can continue to do collectively to try and keep our numbers as low as possible, but I think we also need to be aware that there’s always the potential for there to be further spread of COVID-19,” she said. “Despite having high vaccination coverage currently, we know that it’s not quite high enough to prevent to prevent further community transmission and some sporadic outbreaks.”
Bocking noted HKPR is “not an island,” that people are travelling in and out of the area, and that the tools available to prevent the spread of COVID-19 should be used: vaccinations, properly-worn masks, and caution around which gatherings are being attended.

Majority of cases among adults 20 to 39
Of the 24 new cases identified in the past 14 days, almost 42 per cent of those cases did not have an identifiable source for exposure, a general indication of community transmission. Of those cases, 25 per cent were identified to be among the age group of 50 to 59-year-olds with the vast majority being in the age groups of 20 to 29 and 30 to 39. In the past two weeks there have been two hospitalizations.
“Which to me just indicates that COVID-19 can still continue to cause significant illness,” said Bocking.
Of the 362 cases identified since July 1, 61.3 per cent are among individuals that had received no vaccinations, 18.3 per cent were partially protected or considered to be not yet fully protected by vaccination and 20 per cent were fully vaccinated.
“This isn’t surprising, it’s not a concerning trend, I think we know that the vaccinations are not 100 per cent effective,” said Bocking. “They’re very protective and quite effective at preventing certainly severe illness, hospital admission, ICU stays. Good protection against symptomatic illness, but not 100 per cent protection. They’re still the best prevention tool we have.”

Accessing vaccine by walk-in or appointment
The health unit continues to offer vaccine clinics at five different sites – in Minden, Fenelon Falls, Lindsay, Cobourg and Colborne – across the jurisdiction throughout the week when resources are available, and at some high schools on weekends. Those seeking third shot boosters according to provincial policy eligibility should make an appointment through the provincial booking system to avoid waits, although walk-in sessions are available between 3:30 and 4:30 at clinics. Those seeking first or second doses do not need an appointment at any time. Pharmacies and healthcare providers continue to offer the vaccine as well. For more information visit www.hkpr.on.ca.