A year of milestones for the NWHU

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer

Besides administering COVID-19 vaccinations, 2021 was a year of many milestones for the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU).

Dr. Kit Young Hoon, medical officer of health at the NWHU, said 2021 was a challenging year that began with province-wide restrictions that shut down schools, many businesses and recreational centres.

“As the spring came, vaccinations became widely available,” Young Hoon said. “By mid summer most of our residents aged 18 and older have received two doses of vaccines. When the fall came our children went back to school and vaccine passports came into place for many high risk settings in Ontario.”

Young Hoon said both the vaccine rollout and passport programs continue to be strengthened as they learn more about the virus, its transmission and effective protective measures.

As of Dec. 13, 2021, the NWHU’s case rate was 135.2 per 100,000 population, which is more than two times lower than Ontario’s rate. The hospitalization rate was 8.5 per 100,000 population, which is 40 per cent lower than Ontario.

“This is fantastic,” Young Hoon said. “It should be noted that being doubly vaccinated significantly reduces the risk of hospitalization if infected with COVID-19.”

The NWHU has also conducted 3,500 contact investigations.

Thus far, over 153,000 vaccinations of all types have been administered, and COVID-19 vaccines made up 96 per cent of them. Young Hoon said vaccine administration is 11 times higher than a non-pandemic year.

Partner organizations such as pharmacies have also administered 25 per cent of the COVID-19 vaccines.

“The process is complex and requires a lot of planning to execute a successful and efficient clinic,” Young Hoon said. “Vaccine coverage rates are good and I thank the public for doing their civic duty by getting vaccinated or protecting you, others, your community and our health care system.”

Of everyone in our region, including those who are zero to four years old who are not yet eligible, over 85 per cent have received at least one dose of the vaccine, Young Hoon added.

The NWHU has also received 17,000 calls on the hotline, answering questions, providing advice and booking vaccine appointments.

“However, as this type of information became more widely available online, our hotline began to shift towards booking vaccination appointments for those who are unable to do so themselves,” Young Hoon said.

The NWHU also ran essential programming that was not related to COVID-19, the first being “Ready to Quit.”

Ready to Quit offers 12 weeks of free nicotine replacement therapy for smokers who are ready to quit. It is only offered in our communities where access to free nicotine replacement therapy is not otherwise available, Young Hoon said.

“Although many of our programs were not able to be offered in 2021 due to COVID, we were able to assist community members who are ready to quit smoking by connecting with them virtually,” she added.

Between May and August, the NWHU redirected School Food Program funding to support emergency food programs and of in communities for up to 1,200 children and youth each month.

“We also provided funding for summer learning programs that took place in schools in July and August,” Young Hoon said.

In 2021, the NWHU continued to see clients virtually and have recently started to shift back to in-person. Virtual appointments still occur and provide parents with more flexible options in consideration of their needs and comfort level, Young Hoon said.

Young Hoon said although looking back at 2021 is a good way to recognize our accomplishments it is important to look forward to 2022.

“There are many unknowns as we have seen again and again with a novel virus. What we do know is that our booster shot campaign and the five to 11 vaccinations will continue into early 2022,” Young Hoon said.