The following are brief reports from a Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge district health unit press conference with medical officer of health Dr. Natalie Bocking, held virtually Sept. 29.
By Sue Tiffin
As of Monday [Sept. 27] of last week, the HKPRD health unit reported 80 per cent of the population across the health unit’s region had received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine. To date, almost 85 per cent of the population in the region had received one dose of vaccine.
“This milestone – I think we often focus on the population that’s left to still be vaccinated, and really can take a step back and acknowledge the amount of work and the huge achievement of reaching that 80 per cent mark,” said Bocking, who thanked the dedication of healthcare workers but also community organizations, municipalities, volunteers, “and of course all of the residents who have participated in this really unprecedented rollout of vaccine.”
Approximately 25,500 residents living in the health unit’s region that are eligible for vaccines have still not received their first dose.
Bocking said the health unit’s website had the most up-to-date and accurate information on vaccine clinics, including mobile clinics, school-based clinics, and pharmacy options.
Local COVID-19 stats update
As of Sept. 29, the health unit’s area had identified 2,439 COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. On that day last week, there were 27 active cases, with 243 high-risk contacts – Bocking noted the number was twice as high as was reported the previous week, and said the health unit is “continuing to note the high number of contacts identified with each case that’s being identified.” The number is higher in relation to school-aged cases, in which entire classrooms are identified as high-risk contacts if school staff or students become infected.
Of the 51 cases identified in the last 14 days, 29.4 per cent were individuals under the age of 20, while 19.6 per cent were individuals between the ages of 50 and 59. Of the 51 cases, 37.3 per cent had become infected with no known source, 25 per cent were household contacts and 27.5 per cent were close contacts with someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19.
Bocking said that of the 279 cases of COVID-19 identified since July 1, 14 per cent were fully vaccinated and 66 per cent had not been vaccinated, or had no record of vaccination, while 19.7 per cent were either partially vaccinated with one dose or were not fully protected yet, with 14 days passing since their second dose.
“So still seeing the vast majority of cases being among individuals that are unvaccinated,” she said.
Vaccine approval for children under 12 possible this year
While Pfizer seeks approval through the FDA and Health Canada for use of the vaccine in children aged 5 to 11 based on preliminary data of trials, Bocking said the health unit is preparing for the potential approval, implementation and rollout of the vaccine, possibly by the end of the calendar year.
“What does this mean for Canada, and what does this mean for HKPR, it means we’re one step closer,” she said. “A few steps in between, but we’re now well experienced in terms of what that process looks like and can quickly adapt to what is needed.”
Last year, the HKPR health unit region identified more than 200 cases of COVID-19 among school-aged children and educators. This school year after one month of school, Bocking said “we’ve only had 11 cases, which is great.”
“The impact of COVID infection in terms of resulting classes being dismissed or bus cohorts being dismissed, certainly is still a significant disruption in school,” she said.
Provincially, approximately 17 per cent of COVID-19 cases have been in individuals under the age of 20, and about 16.5 per cent across the health unit’s jurisdiction throughout the pandemic.
“We have had, I believe it’s just over 406 cases among individuals under the age of 20,” Bocking said.
“What’s different about this age group is that they don’t tend to have as severe disease, so they’re not as sick, we don’t see the as-high hospital admissions or ICU admissions,” she said. “That being said it still does happen, we have had six deaths among the paediatric population across Ontario since the start of the pandemic.”
Responding to a question from a reporter about why children were being encouraged to be vaccinated, Bocking acknowledged that “it’s a bit nuanced.”
“When we think about the Delta variant and how infectious it is, just mathematically, if you have a larger number of children that are infected overall you’re going to see those rarer hospitalizations, ICU admissions more, just by virtue of there being a larger number of kids that are infected,” she said. “So part of this is in response to newer variants, such as the Delta variant, which are more infectious. The other component is that while children might not get as sick, they certainly can pass on infection to others, and so this becomes more than about protecting a population as a whole, communities as a whole and families as a whole to decrease overall spread of the virus which will then prevent hospitalizations, ICU admissions and death in older age groups across the population as well. There’s two pieces to that puzzle, and certainly similar to other viruses, where we look at vaccine coverage, really needing to see the entire population with protection through vaccination to see overall control of the spread of the virus.”
At this point in time, Bocking said the province has indicated that they will not be adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of vaccine requirements, which includes measles, tetanus, diphtheria and polio that currently exists for school-aged children to protect against outbreaks in schools.
“And so direction might be more around having some sort of policy direction around disclosure of vaccine status so we at least know what the vaccination status is of students which will help us with case and contact management and outbreak management,” said Bocking.