By Sue Tiffin
The following are brief reports from a Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge district health unit press conference held virtually May 5 with medical officer of health Dr. Natalie Bocking.
For the third successive week, mass COVID-19 vaccination clinics in Minden and Haliburton are still not running at full capacity, as the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge district health unit deals with low supply of vaccine to the region. Clinics are scheduled for May 14, 18 and 25 at the S.G. Nesbitt arena in Minden, and a clinic was scheduled on May 7 and another is scheduled for May 20 at the A.J. LaRue community centre in Dysart.
The health unit’s website notes that “if a clinic is filled, it will not appear on the provincial booking system. More clinic dates may be added as vaccine allocations are confirmed.”
Bocking said allocations of the Pfizer vaccine had increased slightly over the first two weeks of May, with approximately 4,700 doses being distributed throughout the region, and that supply increases “quite significantly” in the last two weeks of May with closer to 8,100 doses per week being offered by the province. A further increase will occur in June.
“This is really a reflection of more Pfizer coming into the country, more Pfizer coming into Ontario, and then of course more Pfizer being allocated across all of the health units,” said Bocking. “In response to that we are looking at how we can ramp up clinics and ensure all of that vaccine is out into people’s arms as quickly as possible.”
As the supply of Moderna vaccine has been less stable than that of the Pfizer vaccine, Bocking said it is largely being used currently in mobile clinics conducted by the health unit, and flowed out to primary care health teams.
On March 18, the A.J. LaRue community centre clinic was announced as the last of six vaccination clinics in the region to be confirmed, but on March 19 the municipality of Dysart et al announced the clinic would be cut short on June 12 to ensure summer ice is available in the community for user groups and to meet the municipality’s contract with the Haliburton Hockey Haven. As of May 5, Bocking said she did not yet have further details on where the new location for the clinic, which opened the week of April 12, might be.
Appointments can also be made at select pharmacies in the health unit region, by contacting pharmacy staff directly. To date, there are clinics in Haliburton at Drug Store Pharmacy in Todd’s Independent at 5121 County Rd. 21, Haliburton Highland Pharmacy at 211 Highland Street, Rexall at 224 Highland Street and Shoppers Drug Mart at 186 Highland Street.
‘Fingers crossed’ the end of the third wave is near
In giving an epidemiological report update, Bocking said the numbers of currently active cases in the region were lower this week than last week.
“I’m pleased to say that in general our numbers seem to be decreasing, you’ve likely seen the same with the provincial numbers overall,” she said. “I’m quite hopeful that this means that we truly are on the downward side of this most recent resurgence in COVID-19. In a small health unit jurisdiction such as ours, where we don’t have millions of people or multiple hundreds of thousands of people, sometimes the numbers do go up and down fairly quickly and that’s just because we don’t have enough numbers for some of those trends to be smooth.”
Two weeks ago, Bocking said, the local seven-day rolling incidence was reaching numbers as high as the 80s per 100,000 people, and as of May 4 was at 29 per 100,000 people.
“Again, quite promising,” said Bocking. “Perhaps too soon to say we’ve completely gotten through this third wave, but fingers crossed.”
Of cases identified in the last 14 days, the majority of cases are considered to be connected to household contacts, or close contacts. About 30 per cent of cases were of no known source of transmission, with no clear exposure linked to the case, which Bocking said generally signifies community transmission.
Cases between age groups had been evenly spread out with 16.5 per cent under the age of 20, 16.5 per cent between the ages of 20 and 29, and 16.5 per cent between the ages of 40 and 49.
“Not seeing as many cases under the age of 20, but thankfully also not seeing many cases in our older population, which is still a change from previous waves in the pandemic,” said Bocking.
In her update on May 5, Bocking said in the past two weeks there had been five admissions related to COVID-19 to hospital among Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge district residents and four individuals admitted to the intensive care unit – not necessarily hospitals in our region.
The seven-day HKPR test positivity rate has slowly decreased as well, dropping from higher than 3 per cent, to 2.6 per cent.
“Really all indicators headed in the right direction, which I think if we all continue to do our part and work toward continuing to stay at home and avoid social gatherings, that this is the largest contribution to seeing these numbers go down,” said Bocking.
Vaccine roll-out rates keeping up with province
The total amount of vaccine doses that have been administered in the HKPR region as of May 3 was 57,114 doses, with 53,798 of those being a first dose of vaccine. The number of people within the region who have received a dose of vaccine as of May 3 was 72,365, reflecting that some people who live within the HKPR area have received a vaccine outside of the area.
“I think these numbers are quite exciting and reflect a huge amount of work that has gone in to ensuring that residents have access to the vaccine based on our supply,” said Bocking.
Within age groups of HKPR residents, 76 per cent of those 80 and older have received their first dose, and among residents 60 and over, 73 per cent have received their first dose.
“I know the province has come out with an additional target of achieving 65 per cent of eligible adults having received their first dose and for HKPR, I would say we are certainly well on our way to achieving that,” said Bocking.
Regarding whether or not most adult residents would have been able to have their first dose by the summer, Bocking said it could be possible.
“The rate limiting factors are supply – whether we’ll have enough supply – and then capacity to have it all rolled out, and then uptake among the population and people wanting to have their first dose,” she said. “All signs would indicate, in terms of what we’ve been able to achieve so far, that with increased supply, we will be able to make it available and whoever is eligible and would like that first dose of vaccine should be able to get it.”
Health Canada approves vaccine for 12-and-up
Just prior to last week’s health unit press conference, Health Canada announced it had approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children aged 12 and up – previously Pfizer was permitted for those 16 and up. Bocking said she was excited about the update.
“This is great news,” she said. “The more of the population that is eligible to be vaccinated, the more protection we will have overall.”
She noted that Health Canada’s approval is the first step, and now the timeline of vaccine rollout to that age group would be implemented by the province but the health unit was preparing for that additional group of residents to be vaccinated.
“We’re starting to plan internally around what a vaccine rollout might look like for that age group,” she said.
Asked if children would be able to get the vaccine without parental permission, Bocking said children would not be vaccinated without parental approval, but teenagers might have such an option.
“There’s not a formal age of consent in Ontario for receiving medical care,” said Bocking. “That being said, there wouldn’t be children that would be given vaccine without parental approval. For teenagers, that are able to make informed choices and understand the risks and benefits for their medical care, I think it depends on the venue of where vaccines are received and how that rolls out. In general we ask for parental consent, and if for some reason it’s not there, speak individually with that teenager and try and figure out a plan with them.”
Greater chance of COVID-19 complications than rare vaccine side effects
Regarding hesitancy of some people to getting the AstraZeneca vaccine, for which there have been reports of very rare blood clotting cases, Bocking said she can understand the “confusion and sometimes the frustration,” due to “mixed messages.”
“If we look at the, even just the numbers, our incidence rate of COVID, even though we are seeing a lower incidence rate, it is still higher than what the expected rate is of the very rare side effects of the vaccine,” said Bocking. “Put another way, risk in this region of getting COVID and becoming sick from COVID really is still higher than the rare adverse risk associated with some vaccines, including what’s been highlighted in the AstraZeneca vaccine. I would still encourage people to take whatever appointment they’re first able to get, because the faster we have more people vaccinated, I think the faster we’re going to move to be able to change some of these other public health measures.”
Upcoming Talk with the Doc session
The next Talk with the Doc community update virtual session with Dr. Bocking will take place on May 18 from 1 to 2 p.m. The one-hour conference, in which Bocking shares information about COVID-19 cases and transmission rates in the health unit region, provides updates on the vaccine rollout and discusses the health unit’s pandemic response work is live-streamed on YouTube. General COVID-19 questions for Dr. Bocking can be submitted in advance. Visit https://www.hkpr.on.ca/2021/04/30/sign-up-for-talk-with-the-doc-virtual-town-hall/ for more information.