By Sue Tiffin
Local Journalism Initiative reporter
The following are brief reports from a Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge district health unit press conference held virtually on April 21 with medical officer of health Dr. Natalie Bocking.
In the upcoming weeks, there will be fewer mass vaccination clinics in the HKPR area due to challenges with vaccine supply, and prioritization of mobile teams in reaching congregate care settings that the health unit has not yet been able to reach – and sometimes clinics will be prioritized over mobile teams while the health unit deals with a low supply of vaccine.
“We’re still in an era of vaccine shortage,” said Bocking. “And a lot of the challenges or struggles or frustrations that people are experiencing related to access to COVID-19 vaccines are rooted just in the fact that Ontario is not receiving enough supply, Canada is not receiving enough supply and so in HKPR we’re not receiving the supply that we’d like to see to meet the demand.”
“Of the vaccine supply we do have, we need to be able to reach some of the priority populations that were identified throughout the provincial framework guiding the vaccination roll-out,” she said.
The Lindsay Exhibition (LEX) clinic will still be open this week, as well as mobile clinics in retirement homes, group home settings, congregate care settings and community-based clinics for the highest risk population.
“Over the next couple of weeks, there will be fewer appointments in those mass immunization clinics because we have less supply overall,” said Bocking, who noted that shipments of increased supply of vaccines are expected to arrive in May. “I’m quite hopeful that that will enable us to really operate all of the mass immunization clinics at their full capacity which they haven’t been to this point, because there hasn’t been the vaccine supply.”
Bocking thanked volunteers for their work in helping to make clinics possible.
“Once more vaccine is received locally, the health unit will resume its mass immunization clinics and those will be scheduled into the provincial booking system for members of the public to book,” reads an April 26 update on the health unit’s web site. “In the meantime, residents aged 40 or older may be able to book a vaccination appointment through participating pharmacies. As well, some local primary care providers and family health teams are starting to offer vaccinations to their clients.”
51,000 HKPR residents have received at least one shot of vaccine
Of the April 19 vaccination number update, 41,156 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered across HKPR jurisdiction, and 51,000 residents of the HKPR region have received a vaccine – the number being higher as some people who live in the area received a vaccine outside of the jurisdiction – equating to about 27 per cent of the health unit’s population having received at least one dose, consistent with the provincial proportion according to Bocking.
“So I think we are on the right track,” she said.
Within Haliburton County, vaccination clinics have been taking place at the S.G. Nesbitt arena in Minden and A.J. LaRue arena in Haliburton since earlier this month using the province’s three-phased vaccination priority plan and phone or online appointment booking system. Currently appointments are available for those born in 1961 or earlier,or to those eligible for vaccination for reasons other than age. Visit http://www.ontario.ca/bookvaccine or phone 1-888-999-6488 to book an appointment when mass clinics reopen.
Recently vaccinations have been made available in three pharmacies in Haliburton – Rexall, Shopper’s Drug Mart and DRUGStore Pharmacy in Todd’s Independent – some by appointment and some by walk-in. Visit https://www.hkpr.on.ca/2021/03/26/vaccination-clinics/ for more information.
The Haliburton Family Medical Centre, which helped vaccinate community elders prior to the mass vaccination clinics opening, is also offering Astra-Zeneca immunization clinics for people born in 1981 or earlier on April 23, 29 and 30 with additional dates to be announced. Patients of the Haliburton Family Medical Centre are asked to call 705-457-1212 to book an appointment.
Vaccination of people who are homebound, a collaboration with the Local Health Integration Network and paramedic services, is expected to start soon.
Region would be in red zone if not for lockdown
Bocking said last week that 291 new cases had been confirmed in the last 14 days, noting it’s “a fairly significant increase from what we had been seeing more recently in the pandemic.” The region’s test positivity rate has also increased and has hovered just over three per cent, as have test positivity rates across the province, some regions with an average of higher than 10 per cent. On average the health unit is seeing about 20 new confirmed cases a day.
“I think it’s too soon to say that this is going to be the new standard,” said Bocking. “There’s still the possibility that the numbers will go up further or hopefully as the public health measures that are currently in place are kicking in we will see those numbers decrease.”
The crude rate of infection over the past seven days is one of the indicators that determines which colour zone a region falls into under the provincial government’s COVID-19 response framework, which is currently paused as the province is on lockdown.
“Over the last [week], our crude rate per 100,000 people has ranged between 65 and 88 or 89 per 100,000,” said Bocking. “If we weren’t in a provincial shutdown, that would put us in the red zone.”
Prior to the most recent declaration of emergency and province-wide stay-at-home order, which began April 8 with public health measures further enhanced beginning April 17, the HKPR region was declared a ‘yellow’ zone.
“Between then and now, that increase in cases would have put us into the red zone,” said Bocking.
Thirty per cent of the most recent cases discussed in the press conference have been confirmed in people under the age of 20, compared to the earlier days of the pandemic when the majority of cases were confirmed among the older population, which Bocking said might be because more of the high-risk and older population has been able to be vaccinated, or also that the variants of concern have been reported to cause infections in the younger population – not necessarily children, she said.
The majority of cases being traced are reported to have spread through community transmission – not necessarily through a specific workplace or setting – including quite a few that couldn’t be connected to a particular case, which reflects further community transmission.
Variants of concern
Of the cases the health unit has been notified of in the past two weeks, approximately 13 to 14 per cent of those have been identified as variants of concern, while in the province that number has plateaued at 69 per cent.
“We are not seeing in our region the same proportion of variants of concern, but we are seeing it,” said Bocking, adding there is a delay in reporting if a sample has the mutation consistent with a variant of concern so numbers will continue to change.
At press time, 17 cases have been identified in Haliburton County as variants of concern; a total of 339 in the region – at the beginning of March, 14 had been identified in the entire HKPR region.
Variants of concern are more transmissible than the original virus, and can amplify cases because of the ease in which they spread. Positive cases of COVID-19 are initially screened in the laboratory process to determine if they are variants of concern, but a full genome sequence is required to determine which variant is identified, which takes about one to two weeks and is not done on every sample due to capacity issues at the lab, according to Bocking. To date, the majority of variants identified in the health unit’s region have been the one first identified in the United Kingdom.