By Darren Lum
An emailed response from Haliburton Highlands Health Services president and CEO Carolyn Plummer is helping shed light on decisions related to vaccination roll out across Haliburton County
Several readers contacted the Echo about vaccination clinics underway in the county, specifically questioning the eligibility of vaccine recipients such as retail employees, who were vaccinated at a healthcare worker vaccination clinic held at the Pinestone Resort held on March 17 and 18.
Plummer said essential workers from the next priority level group were selected to ensure all the vaccines provided were used based on guidance at the time.
“These were not publicly announced by HHHS, as they were not intended to be public vaccination clinics. Based on guidance in place at the time, after a concerted outreach effort to offer vaccines to all Phase 1 ‘highest’ and ‘very high’ priority health care workers and first responders, and in our attempt to ensure all the vaccines provided to HHHS were used in the community, some doses were offered to the next priority level groups [e.g., essential workers in the community such as grocery store workers, bank staff, etc.]. HHHS was subsequently asked to hold off on this approach, until the priority sequencing could be applied similarly across the entire public health region, as some communities had not yet completed Phase 1,” she wrote. “Similar to other jurisdictions, due to the novelty of vaccination clinics of this nature, all parties are learning and improving processes as we proceed in order to ensure that all priority populations have access in priority sequence as directed by the Ministry of Health, and as we respond to ongoing changes and updates to provincial guidance.”
During a media scrum held virtually on March 24, the acting local medical officer of health, Dr. Ian Gemmill admitted an error was made in this situation, but that it was done with the intention of helping and should be forgiven.
“We have been told by the province to get vaccines into arms as fast as you possibly can. So sometimes there will be miscommunication. Sometimes there will be misinterpretation of who they can call in,” he said.
Administering the vaccinations is complicated when it comes to determining who is eligible, as far as phases and the different priority groups, he added. He referenced “essential” workers such as bank tellers and a grocery staff, who must go to work are included early in phase two, but not phase one.
He characterized this mistake causing a “bit of a kerfuffle.”
“Everybody wants the vaccine as soon as they can and I think people are kind of overly sensitive about what might be called queue jumping,” he said. “I can honestly tell you I’m not aware of any situation in which this was done intentionally and I’m completely willing to forgive people and to say … let’s just get on with more immunizations rather than fuss and worry about it. As I said before, everybody is headed to get a vaccine if they want it and it will only be a matter of a few weeks. So the people that were done, yeah, it might have been an error in terms of the phasing and I know it caused some concern. I think people now understand what the guidelines are and so on we work through, but I think these are errors. Let’s just say, chalk it up to experience and get on with the next immunization. That’s my approach to it,” he said.
Besides the vaccine clinic at the Pinestone, there was also a healthcare worker vaccination clinic held on March 6 at the Haliburton Family Medical Centre, which is in addition to the long-term care home vaccination clinics. So far HHHS has held several clinics offering the vaccines to residents and essential caregivers, who work at the Hyland Crest and Highland Wood; HHHS staff and other local health care workers, and first responders such as paramedics and firefighters.
“Vaccination clinics were also planned and opened earlier this week for individuals who are 80 years of age; these are being held at the Haliburton Family Medical Centre. As of this week, these clinics are now also open to persons aged 75 and over, based on direction set by the Ministry of Health. The Ministry of Health has also now shifted to allow residents of Ontario to be vaccinated in any community, and is no longer limiting clinics to residents with local postal codes,” she wrote.
She added the HHHS is aware of local residents traveling to communities that had earlier access to receive the vaccine earlier.
Plummer continues, “We continue to work closely with the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPRDHU) and other local partners to plan – and shift our plans as guidance from the Ministry of Health continues to shift and change as the vaccine roll-out evolves across the province. HKPRDHU is organizing community vaccination clinics in Haliburton County estimated to commence in April, as more vaccine becomes available to our community. These clinics will also follow the priority sequence as directed by the Ministry of Health. Information about these clinics will be communicated once dates and details are confirmed,” she wrote.