Local health unit gearing up for broader COVID-19 vaccination across Simcoe-Muskoka with clinics to open March 1

Simcoe-Muskoka medical officer of health says public health units best suited to craft vaccination plans

Short on time? Here’s what you need to know:
-The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is opening 13 clinics across the region on March 1 to provide vaccines for the next group of priority individuals, those above age 85.
-First responders such as paramedics and firefighters have been given access to the vaccine this week
-The local medical officer of health refutes claims the province is downloading vaccine responsibility onto public health units (PHU), claiming PHUs know their communities best and are better suited to plan

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is getting all its ducks in a row so that it may offer a COVID-19 vaccine to a broader group of people.

Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) confirmed on Tuesday that thirteen vaccination clinics would be opening across the region as of March 1. These clinics will be used to vaccinate those people that fall into the next priority group to get access to the shot.

Who will have access to the vaccine?

Gardner said the vaccine has already been made available to higher-risk groups like long-term care facilities and those working in hospital settings, while paramedics and firefighters were given access to the shot this week. “Starting next week, we’re going to be moving into other priority groups as well. So, they will include people above 85 years of age and older,” said Gardner on Tuesday, adding more information should be expected later this week. “We’ll be announcing how people can book for themselves, a website, and a phone number. We’re also putting out information to family physicians so that they can help with outreach to their patients who fall into that category and make them aware of how they can book.”

Those who expect to get the shot will first have to prove they’re eligible. “We will be screening for people who don’t belong to those categories,” said Gardner. “We will be asking people to attest that they fall into these categories and be asking that they provide some kind of professional documentation on this as well.”

“It will take us time to be able to move through all of those people, it will probably take us all of March and all of April to be able to move through all of all of those people,” added Gardner.

Where will the clinics be?

Precise information on the clinics’ locations is expected in the coming days, but Gardner said Simcoe-Muskoka has been divided into six sub-regions and each will have at least one vaccination clinic. It is expected there will be three within Barrie-Innisfil and in south Simcoe, two each in the District of Muskoka, north Simcoe, and southern Georgian Bay, and one in the City of Orillia. Gardner said future vaccine distribution won’t be limited to these clinics either. “We do anticipate change, over time, to the potential for pop-up and mobile clinics.”

The number of vaccines coming into Simcoe-Muskoka will not change, according to Gardner, who added he cannot specify the exact volume of doses for security purposes.

What’s the province’s role?

On Monday, the provincial government announced local health units would be tasked with drawing up plans to vaccinate the citizens in each area, prompting critics to claim Queen’s Park was downloading the responsibility onto local health officials. Gardner told Barrie 360 the province took an appropriate step. “It is, in fact, our role in local public health to provide immunizations in general, and specifically, to in response to a broad outbreak like a pandemic, that we are the ones that need to do that we do need local plans to do that well, particularly with something that’s more complicated like this pandemic,” Gardner said. “Really, only we can play the role of having a plan in place where we know where the priority populations are in our communities. And we know where the opportunities lie to work with others to set up clinics with municipalities and primary care providers, and EMS, and community pharmacies; the province would not be able to do that from a distance.”

Gardner added that, aside from distributing the vaccine across the province, Queen’s Park is also paying for each dose.