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Local vaccine rush 'into arms and out of the freezer' is on, official says

'It’s now an intervention we have at our disposal in order to contain outbreaks,' said Gardner, noting staff at Trillium Manor will receive the vaccine
COVID-19 vaccine 2 2020-12-22
Lori Black, a PSW from Barrie, was the first person in Simcoe-Muskoka region to receive a dose of the vaccine against COVID-19. Shawn Gibson/BarrieToday

Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is determined to use its supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as quickly as possible. 

Dr. Charles Gardner said the COVID-19 vaccination clinic set up in Barrie administered 599 doses of the vaccine on Jan. 4, bringing the total number of vaccine doses administered at the clinic to more than 3,000. 

“We will deplete the supply that we received rapidly, which is a good thing,” said Gardner. “We need to be getting it in arms and out of the freezer.” 

He said the clinic on Sperling Drive, a partnership with Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre, is the fourth most active vaccination site of the more than 20 sites set up in Ontario.

The health unit has only received the Pfizer vaccine, which requires a freezer to keep it at -70 Celsius until it’s diluted. Of the 3,123 doses given at the clinic, 1,539 were given to staff from long-term care and retirement homes. The other 1,584 were given to hospital staff. 

The vaccine hasn’t been moved from the site in Barrie, so those in the provincial priority groups who are volunteering for inoculation have to go to the clinic. 

The province is controlling the vaccine roll out and distribution of vials with a three-phase approach. The current first phase provides limited doses of the vaccine for health care workers in hospitals, long-term care homes and retirement homes, other congregate care settings and remote Indigenous communities. 

In Simcoe-Muskoka Region, priority groups in the southern municipalities (Bradford, New Tecumseth, Adjala-Tosorontio, and Alliston) are being inoculated at Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket. Gardner said the health unit is working on collecting the total number of vaccines given to Simcoe County residents at Southlake. 

The health unit is also using the vaccine as a way to mitigate the impacts of active COVID outbreaks at long-term care homes in the region. 

At Trillium Manor in Orillia there have been 14 staff cases, eight resident cases and one death. Gardner said staff at the facility are being vaccinated. 

“It’s now an intervention we have at our disposal in order to contain outbreaks,” he said. 

The first COVID vaccine given at the Barrie clinic was administered on Dec. 22. Each person who receives the Pfizer vaccine requires a booster 21 days later. Nobody has received a second shot yet, but each person inoculated gets an appointment booked before leaving the clinic after their first dose.

According to Gardner, there are about 20,000 people in the region who fit in the province’s first phase of vaccine priority groups. 

The vaccine is not mandatory, and the health unit has been asking for volunteers from within the priority groups. 

Today, the province announced it is planning to vaccinate all long-term care residents, workers, and essential caregivers living and working in nursing homes in Toronto, Peel Region, York Region and Windsor-Essex by Jan. 21. 

The vaccine is currently not available for anyone outside the priority groups, but the second phase of the roll out, which makes the vaccine available to all health care workers, residents in long-term care homes, retirement homes, home care patients with chronic conditions and additional Indigenous communities is supposed to take place this winter.

The final phase offers the vaccine to anyone in the general population who wants it, and would take place when there is enough vaccine available. 

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, there will be enough vaccine supply to allow all Canadians wishing to be vaccinated to get their shots by the end of September 2021.