Vaccine hesitancy leaves open spots at vaccination clinics

By Natali Trivuncic
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

As of Friday morning, from the vaccine allotment the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) has received, 7,570 doses of the Moderna vaccine have been given.

While the number of vaccinations given are continuing to rise, Dr. Kit Young Hoon, medical officer of health at the NWHU said there is still some hesitancy about receiving the vaccine.

Young Hoon said the result of this is many open spots at the vaccine clinics.

“There is some hesitancy that’s being seen across the province,” Young Hoon said. “I think people need to recognize that the vaccine is safe. It’s gone through all the appropriate protocols to ensure that it’s effective and this is our way to get back to normal.”

Young Hoon adds that if the catchment area’s vaccine rates are not high enough, it leaves the region vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 in the fall and the next winter season.

Young Hoon said the outcome would be more public health restrictions.

The NWHU is currently still in the first stage of the province’s vaccine rollout framework but is steadily moving into stage two, which means more eligibility.

“With respect to essential workers, or people who cannot work remotely, that would include teachers, daycare workers, people who work in retail settings, etc.,” Young Hoon said. “They are covered under that latter parts of phase two.

Young Hoon said phase two is estimated to start at the beginning of June, adding that the province expects all health units to roll out the vaccine program at roughly the same time.

Last week, all clinics for those aged 75 and over began across the region and will continue until everyone who would like the vaccine gets one.

Those currently eligible to receive the vaccine include anyone aged 75 years or older, healthcare workers including staff who work in congregate living settings, adult homecare recipients, faith leaders who provide end-of-life care, care of deceased, funerals, home visits to unwell persons or pastoral care in hospitals and long-term care homes and other health care facilities. Another eligible group is Indigenous adults including Métis.

Fourteen new COVID-19 cases were reported on Friday, two in the Dryden health hub, seven in the Kenora health hub and five in the Sioux Lookout health hub.

There are currently 62 active cases in the region, 24 in the Kenora health hub and 29 in the Sioux Lookout health hub.

Despite the rise in case numbers, Young Hoon said variants of concern are not currently an issue for the NWHU catchment area.

There have been five variants of concern to date with two in the Dryden health hub and three in the Fort Frances health hub, Young Hoon said, adding that all cases were close contacts of each other.

“Variants of concern are an ongoing thing to monitor,” Young Hoon said. “It is noted that once variants of concern start spreading, they can spread quite quickly and make up a good proportion of cases in a region.

Due to the variant’s ability to spread rapidly, the NWHU is encouraging the public to avoid non-essential travel outside of the region.

Young Hoon said the region is expected to remain in the red control level of the province’s response framework but it is ultimately the province’s decision.

The colour of the region is based on a few factors, Young Hoon said. This includes case numbers, weekly statistics, number of outbreaks particularly in high-risk settings such as long-term care homes and hospitals, and also the capacity of the healthcare service sector.

Although the ministry meets with each health unit individually to discuss changes when case numbers increase or decrease over a week, the final decision is made by the province.”

In order for the NWHU to move into a lower framework, Young Hoon said the case numbers and incident rates have to be at a certain level for a few weeks before a decision can be made.