Without an incoming supply of vaccines against COVID-19, and with more than 100 confirmed cases of a variant, more contagious, strain of the virus, the region’s health unit is sending remaining doses to vulnerable people in Barrie and Bradford.
Five weeks ago Dr. Charles Gardner, the medical officer of health for Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, watched a Barrie personal support worker receive a dose of the Pfizer-BioN-Tech vaccine, the first vaccine against COVID given in Simcoe County or Muskoka.
But what plans were made on that first day of vaccinations have long been cancelled as a shortage in the nation’s vaccine supply stopped momentum of the vaccination rollout in the province and in the region.
Dr. Gardner said he was deeply moved as he watched the first vaccine injected. Today, during his weekly media call, he reported the last seven days have brought 40 deaths, and evidence of community spread of a UK variant strain of COVID-19, which is shown to be 50 to 70 more transmissible. And there isn’t enough vaccine to provide the required two doses to the residents and staff of the region’s long-term care and retirement homes.
“It’s deeply disturbing and very disappointing, and the timing now is very bad,” said Gardner. “I’m very concerned that we don’t have a large quantity of vaccine in order to more broadly protect [people].”
The health unit is targeting those living in high-risk retirement homes, including those in Barrie and Bradford West Gwillimbury. The health unit is tracking a confirmed case of a “variant of concern,” likely the UK variant, connected to an outbreak at Bradford Valley Care Community. The outbreak at Roberta Place long-term care home in Barrie – with 46 deaths and 127 of 129 residents in the home infected – has already been linked to the UK variant strain of COVID-19.
“We’re acting in a precautionary way to protect the residents at the facilities there,” said Gardner. “We’re very concerned about the potential for this to transmit into the community … it will be hard for us to prevent it from spreading in the community.”
In the meantime, the health unit is preparing for the anticipated arrival of a new and, hopefully, abundant supply of vaccines.
“We’re preparing for the time when we will have a plentiful supply,” said Gardner, noting the health unit is reaching out to municipalities to identify locations for mass vaccination clinics and working with family doctors, healthcare providers and pharmacies to make a plan.
The doctor is hoping to see a vaccination rollout for more people in March, following the province’s plan to prioritize groups such as seniors and those with pre-existing conditions as well as those working in health care.
Right now, the health unit is beginning to offer second doses to the long-term care residents in the region.
“I’m glad we’ve been able to give some protection with the vaccine,” said Gardner. “But we’re not done yet. We still have to give the second dose.”
Gardner said they won’t have enough doses without a new supply arriving in the next week and a half.
For now, he urges, more than ever, people need to stay at home. Any travel has the potential to spread the UK variant further afield.
“You are not to go and visit other people in their homes, you are not to have other people in your homes … not to visit grandkids … grandparents,” said Gardner. “We are not to do this right now. This is really important right now with this variant … we have to comply with the stay at home order. The potential for it to spread here is immediate.”