Vaccinations key for a normal school year: NWHU

By Natali Trivuncic
Staff Writer

The education minister has recently suggested that the province is not only aiming to have students back in the classroom full time by September, but he wants extracurriculars and sports to resume as well in conjunction with preventative measures.

With active case numbers in the region staying low, Dr. Kit Young Hoon, medical officer of health at the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU), said things are looking promising but that it is also too early to say what COVID will look like for the province come fall.

“It’s still not possible to vaccinate children less than the age of 12. So that might be a problem. However, I think if enough adults and those over the age of 12 do get vaccinated it can significantly prevent the spread of COVID-19 even If those younger than 12 are not vaccinated.”

Young Hoon adds that it is key to have high vaccination rates so that no matter what happens in the fall, the region is able to manage any spread of the virus, and hopefully allow children to get back to extracurricular activities.

There are currently four active cases in the region – one in the Kenora area, one in the Rainy River District and two in the Sioux Lookout area.

During the week of June 28 to July 4, the region had four new confirmed cases, two in the Kenora region, one in the Sioux Lookout region and one in the Rainy River District. Two new hospitalizations occurred and there is currently one person in the region hospitalized COVID-19.

Through the NWHU’s investigation only nine people were high risk close contacts of these cases.

While vaccination coverage rates for the second dose continue to climb, first doses have plateaued in the mid 70 per cent range. Young Hoon said it would be preferable to have the first vaccination dose coverage rates at 90 per cent.

“At this point, we are encouraging individuals to be discussing why they’ve chosen to get vaccinated with their friends and family and encourage others to get vaccinated,” Young Hoon said.

The NWHU will have mass immunization clinics for the next three weeks. Youth 12 and older can book their first dose or their second dose in the coming weeks and will therefore be likely to be fully vaccinated before August 22, which is when the NWHU wants them fully vaccinated before they return to school.

Young Hoon said they have also been reviewing lists of students and will be calling students who are not vaccinated to provide them with information that they might need to make the decision on whether to get vaccinated and to assist them with possible barriers such as transportation.

Over 96,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been given in the region. As of Tuesday, nearly 77 per cent of people aged 18 and older have received their first dose and 60 per cent of adults in the region are fully vaccinated.

Young Hoon said once their mass immunization clinics are over, they will provide vaccinations via appointments and pop-up clinics. However, people may have to wait a number of weeks for an appointment due to the nature of how vaccines are used.

Young Hoon said there are 14 doses in a vial of Moderna, adding that they cannot open a vial for just one or two people and must wait until enough people are willing to get vaccinated to justify opening one.

As the province settles into stage 2 of the reopening model, screening tools for workers, employees and for customers have been updated by the province. Young Hoon said all workplaces and businesses should use these tools as they reflect the newest guidance.

More information about the screening requirements can be found on the provincial website or on the NWHU’s homepage under hot topics, and on their workplace webpage.