Vaccine eligibility opens up but coverage still low

Anyone aged 12 and older is now eligible to book a vaccine appointment using the provin- cial booking system. While vac- cine eligibility has been open to those aged 18 and older for some time now, vaccine cover- age rates in some parts of the region are still low.

Dr. Kit Young Hoon, medical officer of health at the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU), said it is difficult to know what the cause is for the differences in rates.

“We’re looking at the data closely to determine how best to address that and we’re also trying to get a sense of what’s happening in the community so we are reaching out to people within the community to get a sense of potential barriers that they could be facing with respect to getting vaccinated,” Young Hoon said.

Young Hoon said they are also looking into whether vaccine hesitancy is playing a part and are trying to address some of the concerns with the vac- cine, namely misinformation that could be circulating on social media.

“The vaccines that are being administered are safe. They’ve gone through a rigorous research process and evaluation process by both Health Canada and the National Advisory Committee on Immunizations,” Young Hoon said.

“The side effects we experience generally are symptoms that will go away quickly and have no long-term effects on the person.”

Serious side effects such as an allergic reaction are treatable and very uncommon, Young Hoon adds.

Young Hoon said she encourages the community to get vaccinated, adding that is key to lifting some of the public health restrictions that are currently in place.

Young Hoon said those that are hesitant about the vaccine should visit the NWHU website which has information that is scientifically based and may

answer some of their concerns. The NWHU and partner agencies have now given over 46,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The NWHU has also begun offering walk-in vaccine clinics to serve communities. Young Hoon said each morning that they are offering walk-in clinics, they will post the information on their webpage and social media.

“At this time, we offer walk-in clinics based on available spots in clinics,” Young Hoon said. “In the future we will offer more walk-in clinics and are currently planning for advance notice.”

The NWHU has seen a significant decline in active cases in the region. There are currently 19 active cases, one in the Atikokan health hub, two in the Dryden health hub, 10 in the Kenora health hub and six in the Sioux Lookout health hub.

Three new cases in the Kenora health hub were announced yesterday.

Young Hoon said the positivity rate has gone down to 1.35 per cent from 1.38 per cent the previous seven days.

“I’m encouraged to see two weeks of a fairly low percentage positivity rates,” Young Hoon said. “We’re doing the right thing and I thank the public for following public health measures. What you’re doing is making a difference.”

During the week of May 17 to May 23, the NWHU catchment area had 18 new con- firmed cases, nine in the Sioux Lookout health hub, seven in the Kenora health hub, one in the Fort Frances health hub and one in the Atikokan health hub.

Two new hospitalizations occurred last week and there is currently one person in the region hospitalized with COVID-19.

Of the 18 new cases, Young Hoon said seven were close contacts of known cases, four were related to outbreak and two are related to travel. The source of exposure remains unknown for five cases at this time.