By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
Despite disruptions to the supply chain for the Pfizer vaccine, the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Medical Officer of Health Dr. Ian Gemmill is still optimistic that vaccinations will begin in this community within weeks (early February).
Dr. Gemmill made his statement in his second weekly hour-long media scrum, which will be available on YouTube and posted to the health unit’s website and social media.
The doctor called the vaccines “a bright light. It is our hope for getting this under control and returning to normal,” he said.
“Restrictions can’t be in place forever. We need the vaccine.”
In anticipation of their arrival, plans are being formulated actively for their administration. A final vaccination plan will be submitted to the Ministry of Health later this week.
Priority will be given to staff, residents and essential care providers at long-term-care homes – by early February, he predicts.
After that, it goes to essential workers – police, fire fighters, emergency medical responders and essential workers as yet unspecified by provincial policy, followed by older adults at risk, older adults and then the general population.
With these priorities set, they are working with a long line of partners – with health-care providers for administration, with municipalities to arrange venues large enough to minimize interpersonal contact, with police for security.
“There are so many aspects of this that have to be in place,” he said.
One of the pieces of the puzzle is the supply of vaccine, and Dr. Gemmill expressed optimism about that.
“We are told in March we won’t have to think twice. It will all be there for us,” he said. This leads the way to making it available to anyone who wants it by perhaps as early as late spring.
They will be guided by certain principles in their planning – speed and efficiency, access (so you don’t have to drive hours to get a shot) and local risk (with long-term-care homes at greater risk, for example, taken care of before those without particular risk).
“All to continue until everyone who wants the vaccine has got it,” he said.
The doctor had good news to share about case numbers, which are up 150 over the past 14 days. Though they average 10 to 15 a day, he said, “I am happy to report yesterday there were only six – and the day before that, only four.
“I do think this has to do with the effects of the lockdown which we have experienced since Boxing Day,” he guessed. With the subsequent lockdown, he expects there may even be a further decrease, as about one-third of cases result from close contact with others.
“Every case we can prevent now is a person we can immunize and protect that way,” he said.
Of recent cases, Northumberland County accounts for about half, with the City of Kawartha Lakes accounting for 40% and Haliburton County about 10%.
The demographic accounting for the most cases is aged 50 to 59. Second place is held by those aged 20 to 29, which is an age group that is highly likely to engage in social contact.
Cases in children – as one might be surprised to know – seem to come from close contact outside a school setting.
At community testing sites, about 600 tests are done daily with a positivity rate of only about 1.5%.
“This is much lower than many other places,” Dr. Gemmill said.
“We are lucky in HKPR in that we have a lower level of outbreak than they do in other parts of Ontario.
“But that means we don’t get the vaccine until a couple of weeks later.”
This is a grave concern for Dr. Michelle Albert at Hope Street Terrace long-term-care home in Port Hope, where an outbreak in a 20-person unit has led to 16 cases and two deaths. While no vaccine is on the horizon for them, they are being fast-tracked for two other Durham Region homes Dr. Albert heads in Clarington. In effect, an invisible line between those two communities that sit only 20 minutes apart puts Port Hope residents at a lower priority.
While Durham is a red zone, Dr. Gemmill said, Northumberland would be orange by now if the old colour code was in effect so the distinction seems arbitrary and unfortunate.
“I don’t want to make excuses for the way vaccine is being distributed,” he said.
“Sometimes people just have to draw a line, and it works out not to our advantage.”
He did agree with Dr. Albert’s statements that vaccinations at the facility could make a difference in helping Hope Street Terrace’s other 60 residents stay safe.
Informed of a recent anti-mask protest at Cobourg’s Victoria Hall, which saw about 20 unmasked protesters shouting and not observing distancing protocols, Dr. Gemmill decried the them-vs.-us mentality.
“The enemy out there is not each other. The enemy is the virus,” he stressed.
Everyone has felt the effects of almost a year of the pandemic. The doctor described his own routine of limiting visits with friends to the computer, lost chances to hug his grandchildren and, of course, wearing a mask to get his groceries. But he’s mindful of the reason for the mask.
“Not only to protect myself, but others in case I have the infection – and to show we all are united in this,” he said.
“This is all about pulling together and showing respect for each other. We are not doing these things to be mean. We are doing these things to protect our hospitals, to protect vulnerable people, to get to the place where these vaccines are.
“I plead with people to respect the lockdown provisions and the stay-at-home order. It’s not fun, but I am doing it because that is what is required. I just wish people would take the actions that will prevent this virus from going from person to person,” Dr. Gemmill said.
“There’s no question it’s human behaviour that can amplify or restrict the spread. If we are smart, we will take short-term measures to stop it by not gathering so that in the future we can do so without any need of restrictions.”