Vaccinations for COVID-19 are underway at long-term care homes across Simcoe Muskoka.
The first long-term care resident in the region to receive a COVID-19 vaccine was 80-year-old Pat Sinclair, a former nurse, at Barrie’s Victoria Village Manor on Monday, Jan. 16.
The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) plans to administer a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to all long-term care residents in Simcoe Muskoka by this Saturday, Jan. 16, with those in retirement homes to follow next week.
Until recently, SMDHU was limited to providing the vaccines by invitation only—primarily to hospital staff and long-term care and retirement home workers across the region, including those in Muskoka—at a clinic in Barrie near the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) because the facility had the necessary equipment to store the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the required -70ºC. A recent decision by the provincial government that the vaccine can be safely transported paved the way for the rollout to long-term care homes.
“COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on both the residents and employees in long-term care and being able to offer the protection this vaccine provides to those who are the most vulnerable is a critical milestone,” said Dr. Charles Gardner, SMDHU medical officer of health.
Relatives of those in long-term care homes who are eager to visit will likely have to wait until larger numbers of people in the community at-large have been vaccinated before restrictions will be lifted substantially.
“Once we’ve immunized the residents and staff, it goes a tremendous distance to reducing their risk,” said Dr. Gardner, adding that the vaccine is 94 to 95 per cent effective, and even in seniors is highly effective. “As we gain control of this pandemic and immunize ever larger numbers of people in the population and start to see transmission come down, eventually we’d be looking at lifting all these control measures in place, probably in a gradual way, a very cautious way.” He couldn’t say what that timeline might look like.
The health unit has to date only received doses of the Pfizer vaccine, although the Moderna vaccine has been approved for use. That vaccine, which is less technically demanding, has so far been provided to areas within Ontario with greater case numbers of the disease.
The Pfizer vaccine can be kept for five days once it thaws to refrigerator temperature—between 2ºC and 8°. Once the first dose is drawn from a vial the remainder must be used within six hours. The health unit has, through careful measurement, been able to draw six rather than the expected five doses of vaccine out of each vial, noted Dr. Gardner. To minimize wastage, the health unit also has a system in place to contact people quickly to invite them in should they have any vaccine still available that must be used before the end of the day.
As of today, more than 8,100 doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been administered within North Simcoe and Muskoka; numbers for South Simcoe are not currently available. In his weekly COVID-19 briefing today, Dr. Gardner wasn’t able to provide details on how invitations for the vaccine have been distributed across Simcoe Muskoka so far, but said that the health unit will look at publishing those details. Some healthcare workers in Muskoka have recently posted photos of themselves on social media after receiving the vaccine in Barrie.
Supply of the Pfizer vaccine remains limited; priority groups identified by the provincial government will continue to be invited to be immunized at the clinic in Barrie, which is one of the busiest vaccine sites in Ontario.
“As COVID cases continue to surge, both across the province and in Simcoe Muskoka, we are working hard to get the vaccine to those who need it most, as safely, quickly, and efficiently as possible,” said Janice Skot, RVH’s president and chief executive officer. “By focusing on the most vulnerable individuals and those most at risk, we will save lives.”
As additional vaccines are approved by Health Canada, and as part of Ontario’s three-phase immunization plan, vaccine distribution will be expanded to other priority groups and then to the general public, noted the health unit.
Despite the start of the vaccine roll-out, it’s important for everyone to follow public health measures to reduce and prevent transmission of the virus until many more people have been immunized. Wear a mask, physically distance from those outside your household, wash your hands frequently, stay home if you are sick, and get tested for COVID-19 if you have symptoms.
For more information, visit the health unit’s COVID-19 Vaccine and Immunization web page or call Health Connection to speak with a public health professional weekdays 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Saturdays 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 705-721-7520 (1-877-721-7520). More information about the vaccine and immunization can also be found at ontario.ca.
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