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North Perth Family Health Team, It Takes A Village start vaccine awareness partnership

Josh Rowe receives a shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the information centre hosted by the North Perth Family Health Team and It Takes A Village on May 28. (Colin Burrowes Photo)

LISTOWEL – An initiative connecting members of the North Perth Family Health Team with It Takes a Village to bring vaccines and medical knowledge more easily to people who may have barriers accessing them under the traditional route launched on May 28.

Dr. Gillian Edmonds was available at It Takes A Village to answer questions and give vaccinations.

“Some people may have barriers even coming to a doctor for many reasons so what we wanted to do here was offer an opportunity for vulnerable people in the community to come and talk to us, to ask questions, to run some thoughts by us,” she said. “There is a lot of information out there that is confusing.

“There is a lot of information out there that is frankly incorrect and that has created fear and confusion.”

The plan is to have a doctor available every Friday between 12 and 2 p.m.

Availability of the vaccine will depend on supply.

“Public Health gives us our supply of vaccines, if we have some we’d love to bring them here, if not we’ll just answer questions,” she said. “I think this is such a great place for so many people in the community and if we can bring health care here why wouldn’t we.”

Edmonds said the main concerns they are hearing about are the effectiveness of the vaccines, side effects and could the effect of the vaccine be worse than the effects of COVID.

“What I would say is the vaccines are extremely effective,” she said. “They are some of the most effective vaccines we’ve ever had available.”

Since Moderna was the vaccine available at the clinic, Edmonds spoke mostly to the effects of mRNA vaccines.

“They are said to be 94 to 95 per cent effective against preventing COVID at all and if you were to have an infection in the five per cent of people who don’t entirely get a full immune response the disease would be much milder, almost 100 per cent certain of not causing death or severe illness, so it’s an extremely effective vaccine,” she said.

Edmonds said side effects are a normal part of the immune response to a vaccine and they are not unexpected. She said the most common side effects are fever, a sore arm, some aches and pains or fatigue.

“That’s OK,” said Edmonds. “That means your immune system is responding to the vaccine and doing what it’s supposed to do. That usually settles in a few days. Once you have that immune response, if your body comes across COVID it will know what to do to fight it before it makes you sick and that’s how a vaccine works.”

There will be a small number of people who may be allergic to a short list of ingredients in the vaccine.

“In that case, we put safety mechanisms in place to make sure we can vaccinate you safely,” she said. “For example, you may have your vaccine in the allergist’s office, you may have your vaccine in the emergency department with a physician standing by so if you did have an allergic reaction we could manage that right away so it wouldn’t pose you any trouble.”

Another thing that can happen with vaccines is autoimmune issues and that is exactly what has happened in rare instances with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“The Vaccine-Induced Immune Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia or VITT is an autoimmune response to the vaccine… It’s in a very small number of people… The problem is we don’t know who will get that autoimmune response and we know from decades of vaccine knowledge and experience that these autoimmune reactions can happen. We look for them and we are openly transparent letting the population know they exist and what to watch for.”

Historically, the autoimmune reaction has happened within the first four to six weeks.

Edmonds said people have also been asking about what the long-term effects of the vaccines may be.

“We can’t predict the future but we can very accurately go on what we already know and what we already know is how vaccines work,” she said. “We know how the immune system works and we know even with this new technology of vaccines, we know exactly how it works in the body. We know what the immune system should do with that vaccine and in the trials over the summer with many thousands of people and in real-world data of many, many more people we know exactly how these vaccines work.”

Even though mRNA vaccines are relatively new technology, Edmonds pointed out that they did not just appear last March.

“There have been trials done with mRNA vaccines for HIV, Rabies, Zika and Influenza (and they) have been tested in phase 1 and phase 2 trials in people,” she said. “So we know they work. We had a good base of information to leapfrog off to make these mRNA COVID vaccines so it’s not new technology and historically long-term side effects are not a problem.”

Listowel resident Josh Rowe came to the clinic at It Takes A Village for a vaccination. After asking a few questions about how effective the Moderna vaccine has been against the COVID-19 variants he agreed to roll up his sleeve for a shot. Edmonds assured him it was effective against the U.K. variant which has been detected locally.

“The long and short, getting a little sick from the vaccine is better than getting sick from the illness and the long-term damages,” said Rowe.

Before the pandemic, he was commuting to an office in Kitchener but he has spent the past year working from home.

“Most of us have realized COVID is here to stay and unless we do something about it it’s not going to go anywhere,” said Rowe. “So we are better off taking care of ourselves and in turn taking care of the community.”

Edmonds said the demand for vaccination from the community has been strong.

“Our vaccine clinics have been full and booked in advance so it’s difficult to get a vaccine appointment,” she said. “We’re not looking at vaccine hesitancy as a problem right now although we are answering questions to address vaccine hesitancy in anyone who has concerns.”

There have been people contacting the North Perth Family Health Team since December asking questions.

“It’s tricky because if you are vaccine-hesitant and people know it, sometimes you get a bit slammed on social media,” said Edmonds. “You might have an extremely valid concern about safety, about the efficacy and then people start accusing you of being a conspiracy theorist. You might have some conspiracy worries and you are not worried about side effects at all.”

She said It Takes A Village is offering a good forum for health care providers to answer questions in a non-judgemental way.

“It is normal to have questions about your health,” said Edmonds. “It is normal to have questions about your treatment. I’m worried more when people don’t have questions about their health or their treatment so if you have questions then you should have someone to ask who is not going to judge, who is not going to make you feel that you shouldn’t have asked – someone who is just going to take your question at face value and answer it with the best available evidence.”

She acknowledged that over this pandemic one of the problems has been that the best available evidence has changed from time to time and that has made people concerned that health professionals don’t know what’s happening.

“We know lots about what’s happening and we give our advice on the best available evidence that we have at that moment,” said Edmonds. “If it changes we will let you know so you have fully transparent-informed information to make your decisions with. That’s what we’re hoping to do. We know you have questions. That’s good that you have questions. We’re here to answer them.”

Andrea Charest, executive director of It Takes A Village, was thrilled by the partnership with the North Perth Family Health Team.

“The doctors are coming out to the people because there is a great deal of information out there for folks and people have a lot of questions and people are also afraid,” she said. “So to come out and make this connection and have this conversation with the community I think is a huge bridge in terms of ensuring that our entire community and all the community members are looked after from a health perspective so I am thrilled.”

Charest said the pandemic has highlighted gaps between people living with all kinds of social issues and the resources they need.

“Whether it is COVID or just a doctor being present to connect with people regularly, that visibility within the community, coming out of the building into the community – I have wanted that to happen for so long so I am absolutely thrilled and it is so necessary and so timely,” she said. “It’s very positive. The community is very excited to see the doctors coming out and doing this.”

Not only are the doctors bringing their advice to these clinics but they also providing lunch.

“The doctors are donating it and we’re happy to,” said Edmonds.

Colin Burrowes is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the Listowel Banner. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.