Haldimand Norfolk counties lagging behind provincial vaccination averages as school year looms

By Mike Renzella

The Haldimand Press

HALDIMAND—With the school year set to begin in a matter of weeks, the Haldimand Norfolk Health Unit (HNHU) is showing an increase in local cases, with a weekly rolling average of 2.43 new cases a day and 10 new cases over a six-day reporting period.

Additionally, hospitalization rates amongst positive cases are up to 6% of new cases in the province. Since June 1, 100% of hospitalizations locally have been among those individuals who are unvaccinated, and all patients have had a variant of concern.

With just over 53,600 Haldimand Norfolk  residents completing their vaccine series, the counties continue to fall behind the provincial average, sitting at 68.7% of adults over 18 who have completed their vaccine doses, compared to 73.19% provincially.

The current benchmark for moving past Stage 3 restrictions is 80% of the adult population having one dose, and 75% having both. With doses administered slowing significantly, it seems unlikely that Haldimand Norfolk will reach these targets anytime soon.

“I think we are getting down to a hardcore group. That may vary in different parts of the province in terms of how many people in any area are more resistant to immunization than other places. We’re doing the best we can to make it available so people will get immunized,” said interim Medical Officer of Health Dr. Alex Hukowich.

“We’re leaning into direction from the Province, and looking at what the data tells us, where are the most useful places to co-ordinate pop-ups,” added Epidemiologist Dr. Katherine Bishop-Williams. “We are seeing our pop-up strategy working and we’re really excited to be seeing first doses as well as people completing their series there as well.”

The health unit is working to find more innovative strategies to address the logistics of the rural landscape of Haldimand. They are planning additional fire station clinics, along with clinics offered for the migrant worker and the Six Nations communities, and are urging any workplaces interested in booking a mobile clinic to contact them. Upcoming fire station dates include: Courtland Fire Hall, August 17; Jarvis Fire Hall, August 19; Lowbanks, August 24; and Port Rowan, August 26. Each clinic will run 4 to 8 p.m., with walk-ins welcome from 4 to 7 p.m.

 

Haldimand Norfolk youth vaccination rate 20% lower than provincial total

As a new school year looms, Haldimand Norfolk finds itself falling significantly below the provincial number for youth vaccinations. As of August 9, 31.84% of HN youth aged 12-17 had been fully vaccinated, with an additional 14.7% having received a single dose. This leaves 53.46% unvaccinated. Comparatively, the province reported 52.2% of youth across Ontario are fully vaccinated, with an additional 16% having received their first dose.

Hukowich wants to see stronger measures implemented by the government prior to the start of the school year: “There are policy levers that the Province could apply to assist health units in getting additional people immunized, particularly amongst the youth, including requiring in-class learning only for those kids who are fully immunized, but they don’t seem to be particularly interested in doing that currently.”

Bishop-Williams added, “We’ve been preparing for the return to school … and if we’re already seeing case numbers climb, that suggests there is some level of baseline infection in our community that will be exacerbated by the return to school. We’re going to be very actively monitoring what case numbers look like over the next number of weeks, especially as we hit that return to school period.”

Like last fall, Hukowich warned that there is no way of predicting what might happen once a full return to school happens, especially with youth vaccination rates so much lower than the adult population: “We’re still waiting for additional information from the Ministry of Health that will be able to help us cope with outbreaks if they occur within schools…. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.”

Bishop-Williams said that in addition to the continued need to observe health guidelines in school environments, locally a priority over the summer for schools has been inspecting and upgrading filtration systems. Although the HNHU is not currently involved in inspecting those systems, Hukowich said that he has been in contact with the school boards in Haldimand about how the HNHU can assist in making the return to school as safe as possible.

The effort to boost youth vaccination rates is continuing locally, with three upcoming youth clinics taking place. On Monday, August 16 a clinic will be open at Waterford High School, with another taking place at Dunnville Secondary School on Wednesday, August 18, both from 4-8 p.m. The third clinic will take place at the Cayuga Arena on Monday, August 23 from 3-7 p.m. Those interested in attending a pop-up clinic can find all dates and times at hnhu.org.

“We still have a ways to go in terms of getting more people immunized in our area, particularly the youth. It remains concerning to me. I’m particularly worried that there are people out there who haven’t been immunized who think they don’t need the vaccine because the virus is going to go away,” summed up Hukowich. “I think families would be very unhappy if their teens are not immunized and get this virus and become seriously ill. I think they’re going to feel quite different about the whole process. The way to avoid that is to ensure all people who are eligible for immunization are immunized as quickly as possible.”

 

HNHU announces mobile COVID-19

vaccination community clinics

Beginning August 9, 2021, the Haldimand Norfolk Health Unit expanded the way community organizations and workplaces access the COVID-19 vaccine. Organizations may now submit a request to have a mobile vaccine team come to your location to administer first and second doses on-site.

This program is intended to assist groups of residents who may be experiencing difficulties attending the mass immunization clinics. The mobile vaccination team will assist in providing a safe, comfortable, convenient, and familiar environment for workplaces and community groups to receive their vaccine.

The program is open to those 12 years of age or older within Haldimand and Norfolk counties. For more information, please call 519-427-5903 or fill out the form at

surveymonkey.ca/r/38ND7J5.