By Sue Tiffin
The following are brief reports from a Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge district health unit press conference with acting medical officer of health Dr. Ian Gemmill, held virtually March 10.
The Haliburton Family Medical Centre at 7217 Gelert Road in Haliburton and the S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena at 55 Parkside Street in Minden are the first two locations to be named as vaccination clinics in Haliburton County, according to information on the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge district health unit website updated last week.
As of March 15, Haliburton residents born in 1941 or earlier can access the provincial booking system, which launched Monday, to book an appointment, with a note on the website reading that vaccination appointments are booked based on vaccine availability.
At last week’s press conference before the website update, Gemmill told media that vaccination clinic locations had been chosen in Northumberland County and City of Kawartha Lakes, but that in Haliburton County the team had seen “possible venues in Haliburton County as well,” but had not chosen a location for vaccinations for the general population to occur, yet. At that time Gemmill said the team had “been to a number of places, we’ve been to Minden, Haliburton, Wilberforce, we’re looking at them all,” using a set of criteria to determine which locations were best, planning for two locations per county.
“Different places are at different stages and that’s going to be a theme, while we get this all set up, until such time that it’s just [in order] like a well-oiled machine,” he said, noting that vaccinations have already begun for long-term care residents, staff and essential healthcare workers throughout the region. “It’s moving along and I’m delighted it’s moving along.”
Gemmill had hoped vaccination clinics could be arranged in each county with a driving time of 30 minutes or less for residents.
“We want a place that has adequate parking, adequate crowd control, have it so it’s accessible enough that people don’t have to travel too far,” he said.
In Northumberland County, a vaccination clinic at the Cobourg Community Centre on Tuesday began vaccinating residents of that county who are 80 or older, organized by a group in the community that involves volunteers, family health teams and hospitals, “a real community initiative,” said Gemmill, and will offer transportation to and from appointments. The public health unit will help to facilitate vaccinations at the clinic. Residents there are to wait for a phone call from that community group inviting them to a vaccination appointment, or to book an appointment online with the province’s booking system.
In City of Kawartha Lakes, vaccination clinics will be open at the Lindsay Exhibition Hall, and Fenelon Falls Community Centre, and residents born in 1941 or earlier there can book an appointment using the provincial booking website.
The website to book appointments, beginning with those 80 and older, is Ontario.ca/bookvaccine. For those without internet access, the Provincial Vaccine Information Line is 1-888-999-6488. Phone lines are open Monday to Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Gemmill asked that residents not phone their family doctor.
“Nobody out there should be calling their family doc and saying where’s my vaccine, because it will flood their lines,” he said.
Further information about local vaccinations for residents 80 and older can be found on Page 12.
‘Don’t let your guard down yet’
Gemmill said that cases in the HKPR region are “still creeping up” and said he remained concerned about variants of concern, more transmissible variants of the COVID-19 virus, that were spreading through the province.
“These are the situations that lead us to recommend don’t let your guard down yet, it’s too early yet to let your guard down,” he said.
At press time, 28 variants of concern had been identified in the region – 23 of those in Northumberland County and five in City of Kawartha Lakes.
The region has moved to the Yellow-Protect zone, which Gemmill said is helpful for people to “get the things they need,” and will help businesses, but that gathering, travelling and informal situations are still contributing to the spread of the virus.
“We can’t get too relaxed and become cavalier at this point in time,” he said, noting there were several more weeks, “maybe even over the summer,” before the community might relax more.
“We know from experience everywhere,” he said. “The virus will accelerate if we’re not careful.”
Gemmill said the health unit had been told they’d be receiving approximately 5,000 doses of vaccine per week.
“Now if you do the math, 5,000 doses per week means 36 weeks to do everybody,” he said.
“I’m very hopeful that while this is the number of doses we’ve been allocated or promised for the next four weeks, that as more vaccine becomes available we will have more access to that vaccine and be able to do more coming in the spring.”
Gemmill said if the health unit was “using it up as fast as we get it, I’ll ask for more.”
A shipment of vaccines for people 80 and older was expected to arrive March 15.
When asked by a reporter why the HKPR health unit is one of few of 34 health units across the province that doesn’t list total doses of vaccine administered on a vaccine tracker website, Gemmill said, “we’re working on it.”
“We’re spending a lot of time trying to get the upcoming vaccine venues and clinics organized,” he said. “Our epidemiologists are still setting up a system to ensure proper reporting of the vaccine data, and the plan is to have these available on the website as well so people can see how things are progressing. We are still getting that system set up do that in a way that is efficient and accurate.”
Gemmill said, as he has previously, that areas with greater incidence of the virus and higher populations will receive more vaccine from the province first.
“It’s really important to say to people, guys, this is not a race amongst ourselves, this is a race against the virus and we are all doing our very level best, I don’t know anybody who’s saying, I’m going to be a laggard on this, everybody wants to get vaccine into arms quickly for the reasons we all know, and everybody is doing their level best to make it happen. We can do what we can with the vaccine we’ve got.”
Data for local COVID-19 vaccinations to date is now available at http://www.hkpr.on.ca.
Health unit launches “Click and Connect”
A new feature on the HKPRDHU website allows the public easy access to ask the local health unit a question, or report a complaint via forms on the site. Visit https://www.hkpr.on.ca/covid-19/ for more details. Additionally, the public can ask questions and hear directly from Dr. Ian Gemmill, acting medical officer of health, through free, hour-long online information sessions – one was broadcast on March 16 from 1 to 2 p.m., and one will be broadcast March 30 from 1 to 2 p.m. Visit https://www.hkpr.on.ca/2021/02/09/sign-up-for-talk-with-the-doc-virtual-town-hall/ to learn how to watch live or on the health unit’s YouTube channel at a later date.