By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
The Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit is so anxious to have people get their second COVID-19 shots as soon as possible, they may actually find a way to help you move your existing appointment forward.
Though Medical Officer of Health Dr. Natalie Bocking is urging, for now, that people take these steps on their own.
The plea came at this week’s media scrum.
“We know we have enough vaccine in the region for all of those individuals to receive their second dose within the next two to three weeks, so we are requesting – we are urging individuals to get their second dose sooner,” Dr. Bocking urged.
“Either move your appointment to an earlier date or walk into one of the clinics available. They are not nearly as busy as they used to be. They can expect to get convenient, efficient service.”
If you have a second-dose appointment in August, September, October or November, the push is on to have you move it to an earlier date.
In the HKPR jurisdiction, an estimated 10,000 people fall under that category, she said.
In August, they will be actively contacting individuals with second-dose appointments to see if they need help rearranging these appointments or perhaps information on a convenient walk-in clinic.
“Some jurisdictions have actually cancelled second-dose appointments and assisted people with moving appointments sooner,” she said – confirming that HKPR is looking at that possibility for this area and identifying the jurisdictions that have instituted such a policy as Sudbury and Timmins.
“In the meantime, either move your appointment forward or walk into a clinic this week or next week, and plan to get a vaccination.”
Dr. Bocking explained the long interval between first and second appointments that would have happened earlier this year. If you made an appointment for a first shot in April, for example, you would also get an appointment for a second shot 112 days later. No health unit had specific bookings or vaccine commitments that far into the future so, in a sense, these second appointments were for what she termed shadow clinics – clinics that very well may never have taken place, given the uncertain vaccine supply at that time.
And now it seems that some of the clinics may not even still be operating very far into the fall. An announcement has come of a Peterborough mass-immunization clinic that will close in September.
HKPR is working out details of how it might do something similar to what’s happening in Timmins and Sudbury. If you don’t wish to change your second-dose appointment, for instance, they will provide you with a list of convenient options that you can take advantage of much sooner.
And in the event your appointment is so far into the future that the clinic is no longer operating, she said, pharmacies (and perhaps some primary-care practices) will still offer access to vaccinations.
Dr. Bocking did have the kind of weekly good numbers that have been so encouraging in recent weeks, such as the seven-day test positivity rate dropping to 0.7% as of last week.
“It’s really nice to see that number less than one,” she said.
Vaccination rates are high among those eligible for a shot, which is age 12 and up – 77.7% have one shot and 60.4% have two.
Defining the coverage rate as those who are two weeks past their second shot, she said, “I think we are well on our way to achieving the provincial target to continue reopening the province – they had said 75%.”
That coverage rate falls a bit when you look at the younger age groups. Of those aged 12 to 17, only 57.7% have one shot. Of those aged 18 to 29, only 60.5% have a single shot.
This is a concern she said, because over the past 14 days, nearly half of new cases identified have been aged 20 to 29 – 44%. It rises to 59% if you add in the 30 to 39 age group.
And 60% of new cases have no identifiable source of transmission or exposure.
Dr. Bocking shared some theories on why the vaccination uptake is so low among young people.
In some cases, it’s not a priority in their busy lives, especially in cases where access to a shot is not easy and convenient. Some may not know anyone who has had COVID and they feel it doesn’t really affect them – or that, because of their age, it wouldn’t have a great impact if it did. And there is the problem of incorrect information on social media that tends to discourage any inclination to make the effort.
The health unit counteracts these attitudes wherever possible – though asked about the possibility of incentives, she said that there have not been dramatic results in jurisdictions where they have been tried.
Asked about cases in the news where fully vaccinated individuals test positive, Dr. Bocking pointed out that the vaccines offer 94%-95% protection. And in those rare cases where a fully vaccinated individual contracts COVID, it is not typically a case of sufficient severity that enough of the virus is present to spread around.
“Certainly what we are starting to see across the province is, the majority of newly identified cases continue to be among individuals who are not vaccinated or are partially vaccinated,” she said.
“There’s a sense of urgency around continuing to promote vaccines as we look toward the fall, as we look toward cooler weather and people moving indoors.”
Four of the five HKPR mass-immunization clinics accept walk-ins, she said. By next week, she anticipates the fifth one (in Campbellford) will be set up for walk-ins as well.
Mobile clinics – offered locally by the Ontario Health Team-Northumberland and Northumberland Hills Hospital – are also continuing to be offered.
“If you are considering your first dose, please do so. If you are eligible to move your second dose forward, please do so,” she said.
Dr. Bocking also urges people to be reasonable and rational as they enjoy the additional freedoms of Step 3 of Ontario’s Roadmap to Reopen.
“We know vaccine coverage is not as high as we would like it to be as yet, and that is why there are still some restrictions in place,” she said.
“We know the virus is still around. As long as there are individuals who are not vaccinated or partially vaccinated, we will continue to see cases of COVID-19.”