GREY-BRUCE – Grey Bruce Public Health will be receiving the first part of its shipment of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine this week, earlier than had been expected. The remainder of the shipment is due to arrive the last week of January.
Dr. Ian Arra, medical officer of health, said the vaccine has been earmarked for long-term care – residents, staff and any other essential workers.
In Grey-Bruce, what will happen is the vaccine will be administered to long-term care staff in stages, about 10 per cent at a time. Arra explained that this will ensure there will be enough staff to care for residents. The vaccine can lead to symptoms such as fever, which would require a staff member to isolate.
This is a somewhat different situation from what’s been happening in cities where the vaccine has been distributed through hospitals. Arra explained that when the vaccine arrives in Grey-Bruce, it will be transported to the long-term care homes.
While the news of the earlier shipment is excellent, it also means the test to showcase the hub concept proposed by Arra and staff will have to wait for a later shipment.
Arra said receipt of the 1,000-dose shipment is “the first step in the right direction” even though the plan isn’t yet being put to the test.
He said there are actually two plans that have been proposed to the province for Grey-Bruce. The first would involve distribution by traditional routes. That’s basically what will happen with this week’s shipment.
The second is for mass immunization using the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, which requires storage at very low temperatures.
“We asked for the Pfizer vaccine,” said Arra.
One reason is others will want the Moderna vaccine, which does not need to be kept extremely cold. And Grey-Bruce is not in a grey or red zone, but yellow.
“We are low priority,” he said, adding, “we are a victim of our own success.”
The plan would serve as a pilot project for an area that’s a mix of rural and small urban – like most of Ontario. The successful implementation of the plan would be great news for both Grey-Bruce and the rest of the province, since it would free up health care resources to assist in other areas.
The project has the support of municipalities, health care, and private industry.
Mass immunization with the Pfizer vaccine would utilize the freezers and expertise provided by community partners Chapman’s Ice Cream and Bruce Power. It would be administered at central locations – the health unit in Owen Sound and Davidson Centre in Kincardine. Two other locations are also being looked at, said Arra – the Bayshore in Owen Sound (not the full-scale field hospital located there, which may well be required for use as a hospital) and the P&H Centre in Hanover (not necessarily the ice surface).
Arra said the mass immunization would put “the last nail in the coffin of the pandemic.”
A task force has been formed regarding vaccine distribution. Mass immunization would require health-care volunteers. Arra said the province is providing support in that regard.
According to the province’s plan released before Christmas and now well underway, vaccine will be administered in three phases, beginning with health-care workers at two test sites in Toronto and Ottawa and continuing with residents of long-term care and retirement homes, public health units, other congregate care settings for seniors, and First Nations populations.
Phase two would expand to health care workers including EMS, residents in long-term care homes and retirement homes, home care patients with chronic conditions, and additional First Nations communities.
Phase three would occur when vaccines are available for every Ontarian who wants to be immunized.
Arra said the situation is complex, but would be simplified if there were ample supplies of the vaccine.
The initial role of the vaccine is to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. That means vaccination of staff and people at high risk of becoming extremely ill with the virus. Once that is accomplished, the next goal is herd immunity which would require about 75 per cent of the population to be immunized.
Pauline Kerr is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the Walkerton Herald-Times. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.