By Sue Tiffin
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 Nov. 24.
On the first day – Nov. 23 – that appointments were open to book children’s COVID-19 vaccines, a total of 1,435 appointments were made in the health unit region. Of these, 63 appointments were booked at clinics in Haliburton County for children aged five to 11 to get the COVID-19 vaccine. As of press time, 122 appointments had been made locally. In Haliburton County, 844 kids are eligible in that age group.
As of Nov. 24, the health unit told the Times there were 6,200 appointment slots available in the health unit region for children aged five to 11 years of age to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, 663 of those appointment slots for the children’s vaccine (ages five to 11) in Haliburton County.
As reported last week, the health unit is offering a virtual information session on Dec. 2 for parents with questions about the vaccine roll-out for children.
“I understand that parents might have questions,” said Bocking. “There’s lots of information on the internet, some accurate, some not so accurate and we really would like to support parents, guardians, family members, other caregivers, in being aware of vaccine, the risks, the benefits, what we know about the vaccine and how to access it.” Visit http://www.hkpr.on.ca for more information.
Bocking was asked if there was the same urgency for kids to be vaccinated as there has been for adults.
“I think there is the same urgency, for a number of reasons,” she said. “One is that if we look provincially at the distribution of cases across age groups, we actually see that the highest rate for population of cases is among that age group, five to 11-year-olds or school-aged children. When we look at the location of outbreaks, where they’re primarily occurring, schools across the province have become the main location that outbreaks are identified, as opposed to workplaces, long-term care homes, that kind of thing. So we know that there is COVID-19 infection within that age group. We know that often the illness, while it’s not as severe, it can still cause severe disease. If we’re seeing a higher absolute number of cases among this age group, it means we’ll see a higher number of severe disease.”
Bocking said it is also important to take things such as long-COVID and kids having symptoms for a long time after being infected into consideration.
“The other thing I point out about the urgency – we know a lot of the measures we’ve had to take during the course of the pandemic have impacted children’s mental health, physical health, emotional health and by offering vaccination in this age group, it will start to minimize disruption to school or disruption to extracurricular activities and help kids get back to a solid routine and social interactions that really are key to their ongoing health. Vaccinations do play a really key role in helping to minimize those other harms that children have experienced throughout the pandemic.”
Bocking confirmed that parental, caregiver or guardian consent would be obtained for any vaccinations for five to 11-year-olds.
Two student cases identified in Haliburton County
As of Nov. 22, the region has seen 2,537 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic. At the time of the press briefing last week, there were 16 active cases: four in Haliburton County, three in City of Kawartha Lakes and nine in Northumberland County.
As of Friday, one classroom at Stuart Baker Elementary School in Haliburton was closed following two confirmed student cases. Bocking said there has been a slight increase in the region’s incidence rate, from about three or four to 8.5 per 100,000.
“We have noted just even within the last one or two days an uptick in cases being reported and so we are closely monitoring that and we’ll see where this takes us in the upcoming week or so,” said Bocking.
Over the past 14 days, Bocking said at the Nov. 22 briefing, of the 28 new cases that had been identified in the region, there had been a slight change from previous updates and the age groups seeing the highest proportion of cases were a little older, in the 30 to 39 and 50 to 59 age groups. A high proportion of those cases – 36 per cent – didn’t have a transmission source identified, which is a general indication of broader community transmission. Otherwise, Bocking said, 10 per cent were associated with household contacts and 18 per cent were associated with travel.
Vaccination by the numbers
Of those 12 and older, 86.8 per cent had received one dose of vaccine and 84.2 per cent have received two doses of vaccine. Bocking said there is a large number of people that have yet to receive any doses of COVID vaccine, approximately 22,500 people across all of the region.
Uptake of the booster dose in the region is steady, but not as quick as first or second doses, said Bocking. She said the health unit’s message to individuals has been that there’s still good protection after two doses of COVID-19 vaccine for severe disease but there is evidence that over time, immune response decreases. As the province expands eligibility for booster doses, it could become harder to get an appointment, said Bocking, “so I encourage people who are 70 and over to look at opportunities … so that you’re not having to wait when other parts of the population become eligible as well.”
Vaccines to go
While there are vaccine clinics happening in Minden’s community centre as well as Haliburton Highlands Secondary School, the GO-VAXX bus is returning to the county on Dec. 4 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for those looking for first or second vaccines, booster shots, as well as vaccines for children aged five to 11. The retrofitted GO bus that serves as a mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinic will be at the Haliburton Welcome Centre on York Street (next to the public library). No appointments are needed, though a health card or form of government photo ID must be shown.