Small number of people contacted to rebook shot after possibly receiving saline instead of COVID-19 vaccine

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By Mike Renzella

The Haldimand Press

HALDIMAND—A small number of people who went in for their second shots at a local clinic recently were surprised by a phone call from Haldimand Norfolk Health Unit (HNHU) asking them to come back for a third shot after being unable to confirm if they had been given a full dose of the expected vaccine or if they had been given saline. This issue had not previously occurred in Haldimand Norfolk, but has happened elsewhere in the country.

Prior to administration, all COVID vaccines are diluted with saline solution: “In terms of why, in our case, there was a discrepancy in our inventory between the beginning of the clinic and the end of the clinic. Because of that discrepancy, we decided that the safest thing to do would be to make an assumption that there might have been some people that were not immunized, and to call people and give them the opportunity,” explained Interim Medical Officer of Health Dr. Alex Hukowich.

He continued, “The other part of why it may happen?  The staff here, as well as across the province, have been dealing with this for a year. People get tired and are sometimes a little less observant than they should be. Unfortunately, people do make mistakes. We have processes in place to minimize errors, but we also have a process in place to catch errors when they do occur.”


A Haldimand resident who was among those called to get a new dose, and requested to remain anonymous, said, “I wasn’t actually that surprised, as I had heard of the same type of thing happening somewhere else, but definitely frustrating. I already took the time to get the second vaccine dose. And I felt terrible the day after, just like my first, perhaps even worse. I could barely move off the couch the night after, but they said just because I had a reaction they still can’t guarantee I didn’t get only a partial dose. And now I have that to look forward to again – that’s if I can make it to the clinic they are having to redose people. If not I will have to figure out another time.”

She concluded, “I’m still going to get the dose again, and I do understand stuff happens. I’m sure there are people a lot more angry than me, but it is certainly an added difficulty.”

Hukowich noted there are no health risks to getting an accidental saline injection, and even in cases where a patient accidentally receives an additional dose of vaccine, no additional health risks have been reported.

“Although the companies don’t recommend that people get more than the dosage they require … there’s no indication that there’s any kind of significant risk to that.”


Health Unit continues to push

for higher vaccine rates locally

The HNHU reported 23 new cases over the most recent seven-day reporting period, with an average of 3.3 new cases a day, down slightly from last week’s numbers, while also celebrating the completion of 130,000 local doses administered as of last weekend.

HNHU staff said they were investigating a data discrepancy on August 30, which may positively impact the vaccine rates locally. No further details were given during this week’s media briefing, but the indication was that Haldimand’s vaccine adoption rates may have been higher than the data so far has suggested .

As of August 31, Haldimand Norfolk was reporting that 72% of those 18-plus and 42% of those 12-17 had received both doses; according to the Provincial data, Haldimand-Norfolk had officially reached 70% of its overall population being fully vaccinated. An additional 6% have one dose.

There was a slight uptick recently in first dose vaccinations, which had virtually stalled out in recent weeks, with COVID Vaccine Team Lead Sarah Page noting that of 85 vaccine walk-ins at Norfolk General Hospital last Friday, 78 were for a first dose.

“We are getting the message out and getting people vaccinated,” she said.

Upcoming firehall clinics are scheduled for September 8 in Hagersville and September 9 in Fairmount. Clinics run from 4-7 p.m.

After several successful months, the Cayuga Memorial Arena is officially closed for business as a mass vaccination site: “We’ll be looking for different sites in Haldimand to continue our vaccination program, in addition to the pop-up clinics we have currently running,” said Page.

She continued, “We want to highlight that everyone who wants a vaccine can get a vaccine. We’re reminding anyone that if you have any barriers to getting that vaccine, like transportation, problems with your identification, if you have questions or concerns, or if you’re homebound and can’t get to one of our clinics, we have several different options available to you…. We encourage anyone who needs help to get that vaccination to call us at 519-427-5903, which is our dedicated vaccine line.”

Hukowich is encouraged by the continued interest from the public: “The fact that we are still seeing 1,000 people a week being immunized is not as high as we’d like, but it’s certainly better than nothing. Every one of those people that gets immunized, they reduce the risk for themselves of being seriously ill, or ill at all, or becoming a source of infection for someone else,” he said.

Hukowich isn’t overly concerned that there may be additional undocumented cases of COVID in the community: “The health unit is doing case follow ups. When we do get a reported case, we do try and make every effort we can to see where that person might have contracted the infection. That may lead us to other people.”

He noted that these at-risk residents are tested if they’re willing and are required to isolate regardless to minimize risk. He said that these unknown cases may exist to increase the case count, “but I don’t think they’re out there in the hundreds or thousands in our area.”

Page says she won’t be fully satisfied until 100% of Haldimand Norfolk is immunized, saying she knows that may not be possible but that the vaccine team will continue pushing forward: “We have vaccine available … and we’re encouraging people to step up. We recognize there are people in the community with some personal thoughts on the vaccine one way or the other but we’re encouraging people to think as a community and help us move forward by getting vaccinated.”

Hukowich, who will be replaced by a new, unnamed permanent Medical Officer of Health on September 14, fully supports the provincial plan to implement a vaccine passport system, the details of which had not been officially unveiled as of publication.


County preparing for third doses

“Over the next few weeks, we’re in intensive planning with the long-term care and retirement home residents and owners across Haldimand and Norfolk counties. All the residents are now eligible for their third dose of vaccine, so we’re in planning to roll that out over the next three weeks,” explained Page.

The Province recently announced on August 18 that people with immunocompromised issues are also now eligible for a third dose of vaccine: “People like transplant patients, people on certain immunotherapies that could affect their immune system. We ask that you are patient with us; we are working with the Province on a system to get these people vaccinated.”