By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
Declining case numbers and increasing vaccine supplies add up to good news for the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit area, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Natalie Bocking said at this week’s media scrum.
Current figures Dr. Bocking cited show 1,673 total cases in the HKPR jurisdiction, of which 54 are currently active – three in Haliburton County, 24 in the City of Kawartha Lakes and 27 in Northumberland County.
“The number last week was much higher than 54 active cases. I am pleased to see in general our numbers seem to be decreasing,” she said, adding that this has become the trend provincially as well.”
Another decrease is the drop in the seven-day cases-per-100,000 figure to 29 (down from more than 80 a couple of weeks ago). There has been a more modest decrease in the test positivity rate to 2.6%, down from just over 3% last week.
Over the last 14 days, 30% of identified cases had no known transmission source, which is seen as an indicator of community spread and often results from household contact or other close contact.
In the last 14 days, top age groups affected are under age 20, age 20-29 and age 40-49, each at 16.5% of the caseload.
Over this same period, there have been five hospital admissions of people with addresses in the HKPR region, four of whom were admitted to the ICU.
In her update of the vaccine roll-out, she said, “there are two ways of slicing this cake” – number of doses administered and number of people receiving their shots.
To date, some 57,114 doses have been administered (of which 53,798 are initial doses). And the number of people with an address within the HKPR jurisdiction who have received at least one dose is 72,365. Breaking this latter number down, she said that 76% of those aged 80 and older have at least their first dose (the percentage is 73% of those aged 60 and older).
“These numbers are quite exciting and reflect a huge amount of work that has gone into ensuring residents have access to the vaccine, according to our supply,” Dr. Bocking said.
Speaking of which, she greets news of increasing Pfizer supplies with delight. The region will receive about 4,700 doses per week the first weeks of May, set to rise to about 8,100 per week for the second half of the month. It is expected to increase further in June.
“We are looking at how we can ramp up clinics and ensure all that vaccine gets into people’s arms as quickly as possible,” Dr. Bocking said.
This may at some point include children, now that Health Canada has approved Pfizer for young children. But a lot of planning will have to be done first to establish who should get it and how that might happen.
Supplies of the other mRNA vaccine, Moderna, are less stable. Locally, this is the vaccine used for the mobile clinics and for some primary-care teams.
Astra Zeneca has been made available to these primary-care teams, and it’s the vaccine used at the 22 pharmacies approved to offer vaccinations throughout the region.
We can expect shipments of Johnson & Johnson at some point, Dr. Bocking said. Once Health Canada is satisfied they are not compromised by quality issues at certain American plants, she said, they should have made some determination on where it might best be used.
Right now, the minimum age to book a vaccine appointment through the provincial on-line-or-by-phone system is 55. Certain priority populations (such as certain high-risk health conditions and certain essential workers who cannot work from home like child-care providers) are also cleared to use the system.
Starting at 8 a.m. tomorrow, the minimum age goes down to 50 and the priority groups increase (to include a longer list of health conditions and priority workers such as teachers).
When you book through the provincial system, you are given first-dose and second-dose appointments. Those who got their first shot through other avenues did not get that second appointment. This group includes those who got shots at long-term-care homes where they are essential caregivers to a loved ones and those aged 80 and up who were personally contacted to come into the Cobourg Community Centre for their initial shots when they were being administered by a local primary-health team.
At some point, the provincial system may be set up to make second-shot appointments only, Dr. Bocking. Regardless, the health unit is working with long-term-care homes to track these individuals and ensure a follow-up shot.
Dr. Bocking reminds everyone we are under a Stay-At-Home Order.
“I know it’s difficult, it’s challenging, it’s frustrating – but we are almost there,” she said.
“And the last thing we want to do is go through this only to open too early and then have strong measure put back into place.”
Asked by a reporter how contact tracing is going on, Dr. Bocking said the lower numbers have made a positive difference here. It’s much easier to follow up when you get 10 cases a day than when you get 35 to 40.
Wading in on the preferred-vaccine controversy, Dr. Bocking came down on the side of getting the first shot you are able to get, no matter what the vaccine.
“The risk in this province of getting COVID and becoming sick really is still higher than the rare adverse event associated with some vaccines,” she said.
“I would encourage people to take whatever appointment they are first able to get – because the faster we have more people vaccinated, the faster we are going to move to being able to change from these public-health measures and getting people their second dose.”
It’s too soon to predict if third and subsequent shots will be needed, she continued, as these vaccines are approved through an emergency-use authorization.
“Research and policy is happening in real time. We are learning as we go, out of necessity.”