Vaccinating a community: A look inside Cayuga’s mass vaccination clinic one month in

Vaccinating a community: A look inside Cayuga’s mass vaccination clinic one month in
CAYUGA—A look inside the vaccination clinic at the Cayuga Memorial Arena. —Photo courtesy of HNHU.

The Haldimand Press 

      CAYUGA—Almost one month ago, Haldimand County officially opened the doors of their first mass vaccination site at the Cayuga Memorial arena.

      The Haldimand Press spoke with COVID Task Force Lead Sarah Page, as well as Haldimand’s Emergency Services Manager Jason Gallagher, about what it took to get the site up and running and what patients can expect when they arrive to get their vaccination.

      “Back in February we knew that the vaccine would be arriving shortly in Haldimand and we needed to come up with a process to be able to vaccinate according to the Province’s directions,” explained Gallagher. “At first, we were planning on the Lifespan Centre in Dunnville, with the opportunity to switch over to the arena as vaccinations ramped up. But as we got thinking, we decided we needed something more central where the population would only have to drive 20 minutes to get to that facility.”

      Page, who is also the chief of Norfolk’s paramedic services, said of her role as Task Force Lead: “I was approached by (Norfolk’s) CAO to move over to the health unit on a full-time basis to be the lead of the vaccination roll out across Haldimand and Norfolk counties. I’ve been doing that for just over a month now and having been assisting our teams in organizing the clinics and getting our patient cohorts moving so we can vaccinate as many people as we can.”

      The Province has a three-phase plan for rolling out the vaccine. Phase One includes long-term care and retirement homes, as well as front-facing health care workers and those over 80; it is nearing completion with approximately 1.8 million doses being administered in Ontario. Phase Two is where mass vaccinations begin, with the government offering the vaccine to people in the 60-79 age range in descending five-year increments, as well as those who live in high-risk environments such as group homes, people with high-risk medical conditions, and those who cannot work from home. Phase Two is expected to run until July and cover roughly 8 million people. Phase Three will provide the vaccine to the remainder of the population.

      The Haldimand Norfolk Health Unit announced March 29, 2021 that it is expanding the age eligibility to those 70-plus. Those eligible should be contacted by their family physician. If you do not have a physican in Haldimand, leave a message at 519-427-5903 or email vaccine@hnhss.ca to book your spot; include your name, age, and phone number.

      “One of the things I think is most misunderstood by the public is that they think it’s Haldimand Norfolk Health Unit making those decisions, but it’s the Province that is in charge of the Covid Vaccine Task Force,” explained Gallagher. “For those waiting for their needle, everyone who wants one will get one, it’s just a matter of when the Province gives us the direction to move forward.”

      “What we had to do in Cayuga is come up with a clinic that was organized, professional, and had a good flow to it so that residents didn’t have to wait for hours at a time to get the vaccine,” he continued, adding that the goal is to see patients move through the entire process within 20 to 30 minutes. This includes check in, getting the vaccine, and a short monitoring period before the patient may leave.

      Putting the site together has truly been a community effort, with support coming from all corners of Haldimand and Norfolk’s medical and emergency service teams.

      Page explained, “We have a great partnership across both counties. In addition to health unit staff, our vaccine nurses and planning staff come from Norfolk General Hospital, West Haldimand General Hospital, Haldimand War Memorial Hospital, the family health teams from both Delhi and Haldimand, as well as partnerships with all the family doctors across the region. We’re staffing with a great number of people from other services, as well as both Haldimand and Norfolk fire departments helping us with the logistics, parking, and screening. It has all come together to make a smooth process.”

      Another key player in the process has been local paramedics: “Our community paramedics have been involved in assessment and testing on migrant farm outbreaks, different outbreaks in some of the nursing and retirement homes, and they are now a part of the vaccination team where they have been doing some immunizing as well as most of the monitoring of the patients after their vaccination. They are definitely stepping out of their traditional role and trying to do everything they can for the community,” said Page.

      All the different people involved are committed to providing a safe and efficient experience to those who show up to get their dose. In addition to the public-facing team working with patients, there is an additional team working behind the scenes to make sure the vaccine is transported and properly prepared.

      “We get a notification every night from the health unit as to what time the pickup is. The locations are confidential, as there could be some issues, not so much in Haldimand or Ontario, but there is a lot of security involved because we don’t want it to be stolen,” explained Gallagher on the process of getting the vaccine to the clinic. “Emergency Medical Services is responsible for picking up the drug. They drive it to the clinic and walk it into the nurses that are doing the reconstitution of the medication.”

      Medications are carried in special coolers at exact temperatures dependent on the type of vaccine inside, and each day determinations must be made about how many doses to order for the next day’s patients.

      “We determine how many vaccines we need on site by the number of registered people. Each vial contains a set amount of doses, with Pfizer containing five doses per vial. We do the math, taking into account the number of people scheduled and the general number of people who don’t show up, and then come up with the number of vials we’ll need,” explained Gallagher. The task force has also instituted a waitlist for the next age group, with individuals being called to make use of any remaining doses at the end of the day, such as if more people cancel their appointment than expected.

      As for adverse reactions to the vaccine, Gallagher said, “We’ve had a few falls but nothing major. We’ve had the odd adverse reaction on site, but paramedics have been able to deal with that and there hasn’t been any major, life-threatening reactions or any allergic reactions at any of the clinics being held in Cayuga.”

      Norfolk will be opening a second mass vaccination site at the arena in Delhi on April 9 and are also operating a vaccination site out of Norfolk General Hospital, which is capable of administering roughly 250-300 doses per day in addition to the expected 700-800 doses per day anticipated to be given out at both the Cayuga and Delhi sites, based on vaccine availability.

      Page expressed her gratitude over the relatively smooth process so far: “Thank you to all our community partners. The community has been really great and positive. We’ve had lots of good feedback, saying that the process was easy, quick, and efficient, and they felt like everyone took good care of them while they were there.”

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