By Kaitlyn Clark
The Haldimand Press
HALDIMAND—The Provincial government has directed all hospitals and public health units to pause the administration of all first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, except for residents of long term care homes and retirement homes. Despite this pause in the vaccination program, the Province continues to target widespread vaccination by August.
The Haldimand Norfolk Health Unit (HNHU) received 1,950 doses of the vaccine and used 1,543 to vaccinate all willing residents in the region’s 18 long term care and retirement facilities last week, along with a “small percentage” of staff members, said Medical Officer of Health Dr. Shanker Nesathurai. HNHU is now holding on to its remaining 407 doses and awaiting further instructions from the Province.
“We hope we’ll get additional guidance shortly so we can decide what to do with the vaccines we currently have in inventory,” said Nesathurai. “Our public health goal is to try to get as much vaccine into people as quickly as possible. To the extent that we can work towards that goal, I think that’s a priority for the health district and for health officials throughout the province.”
Until this Provincial direction comes, Nesathurai says he can’t be sure who will receive the remaining doses. Staff members of long term care and retirement facilities have been marked as a priority previously, followed by other general health care workers and those in other congregate settings.
“From my own perspective, people who are community living elderly, meaning people who are in the older age group living outside of care homes, would be a priority population as well,” added Nesathurai.
He warned, however, that since the Pfizer vaccine in stock requires two injections three weeks apart, the current supply may not go to anyone new: “One of the challenges is that we want to be sure there is sufficient vaccines that at least the highest priority groups can get their second dose.”
When asked how concerned he is in regard to the vaccination shortage, Nesathurai responded, “I am personally quite concerned with vaccine availability because it’s one of the things that could help us modulate the spread of COVID-19, or at least modulate the effects of COVID-19…. The vaccine has been shown to prevent people who get COVID-19 from getting sick and to the extent we can prevent people from getting sick if they get exposed and infected is a good thing.”
He noted that the vaccine has not been proven to prevent transmission of COVID-19.
COVID-19 trends in Haldimand Norfolk
Data for new cases of COVID-19 in Haldimand Norfolk has shown a continued decline since peaking at the beginning of the month.
As of January 25 the seven day rolling average of new cases was 4, a stark decline from the January 1 average of 19.14.
While Nesathurai is hopeful the current measures are having a positive effect, he believes it’s too early to guarantee the lockdown measures will be lifted soon.
“We always have to match the public health
measures with the objectives of the measures,” he said, noting that the number of new cases is one of many factors involved. “We will continue to follow the data, day by day, week by week. It’s difficult to predict what we’ll see two weeks from now.”
One significant measure is hospital and intensive care capacity in the Province, which is one reason why the vaccine’s ability to stop the infected from becoming ill is so important. Nesathurai added, “Once we have broad vaccination I would be more comfortable with relaxation.”
Lockdown, online-only schooling remains in place
The current declaration of emergency is in place until at least February 11.
“The results of these measures will be evaluated throughout the provincial emergency to determine when it is safe to lift any restrictions, or if they need to be extended,” reads the Province’s release.
Schools within seven northern health units were able to return to in-person learning on January 11. All southern Ontario schools were initially expected to return this week, but only seven regions were given the go ahead. The remainder, including those in Haldimand Norfolk, will continue with online learning until at least February 10. Some exceptions have been made for special education students with complex needs.
“It’s challenging for our students and staff to not be in school together,” said JoAnna Roberto, Director of Education, Grand Erie District School Board.
She added, “They are missing each other and those daily interactions and activities that make our school communities so special. While remote learning is not ideal, every day we are seeing the incredible creativity of our educators and students shine through. We are witnessing the power of their resolve to carry on together and seeing how their relationships extend beyond our school buildings.”
For any classes that have resumed in person, increased screening protocols have been introduced along with extending mandatory masks for Grades 1-3.