We need a local option

By Mike Baker

I think it’s fairly safe to say that the Haliburton vaccination clinic, which operated out of A.J. LaRue Arena from early April until this past Wednesday, June 9, was an overwhelming success.

There’s many reasons for that. First and foremost, the site was visited by 4,500 individuals, the vast majority of them local residents, who received either their first or second dose of the vaccine. That’s a terrific number when you take into account the local population – around 18,000 in Haliburton County, 6,300 of those in Dysart et al. Factor in the number of shots that have been administered at the Minden clinic, and a high percentage of the local community has been at least partially vaccinated.

That’s impressive when you consider the fact that, back in February, then acting medical officer of health for the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge (HKPR) district health unit Dr. Ian Gemmill indicated it could be late summer before most people from Haliburton County could expect to receive the first of their shots.

Basically, we’re months ahead of schedule. We should give the federal and provincial governments some credit for that, given how much rollout of the different COVID-19 vaccines has ramped up in recent weeks. We should be thankful, too, for the doctors and nurses who gave their time to work the clinics.

Of course, they weren’t alone. For every single clinic date in Haliburton over the past few months, there have been two dozen volunteers on hand over the course of the day to make sure they ran smoothly and safely. The Haliburton Rotary Club took on the work of coordinating that extensive volunteer effort.

Rotarian Ursula Devolin said she never once had a problem filling all of the required spots and positions. Whether it was a member of the Rotary club, another service club, students looking to complete volunteer hours or just local residents wanting to lend a helping hand, there was no shortage of helpers willing to step forward.

It’s a shame then that this effort has come to something of a premature close. Granted, HKPRDHU was stuck between a rock and a hard place given that Dysart township expressed a need to have the clinic moved out of A.J. LaRue Arena by mid-June so that the municipality could accommodate a hockey camp it had previously agreed to host.

That hockey is taking precedent over vaccinations right now is a bit of a farce in itself, but once that decision was made back in March it was clear there was no going back. What has surprised me is that HKPRDHU hasn’t established an alternate location in Haliburton.

Now that schools are to remain closed until September, the gym at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School would have been a perfect spot.

There have been murmurs that the mass clinics in Haliburton haven’t been as well attended as health officials would have liked, and that’s why it wasn’t deemed a necessity to establish another site. But to me, 4,500 people is not insignificant.

Now, all of those people and thousands more, many of them seniors or youth who rely on others for transportation, will be forced to travel outside of our community to be vaccinated. I’ve heard from people already who have had to set up appointments in Huntsville, Lindsay and Orillia because there are no local options.

HKPRDHU has stated they are looking into setting up shorter-term clinics in the community, as well as providing additional mass clinic dates in Minden, while the Haliburton Highlands Family Health Team and area pharmacies are also offering shots. None of those, however, will be able to put up the same numbers as a mass clinic.

We’ve made such progress in recent weeks. It would be a shame to see things falter with the finishing line finally in sight.