More vaccines on the way to Simcoe Muskoka as cases of variants of concern level off

Dr. Charles Gardner strikes a cautious but optimistic tone

There was an air of optimism from Simcoe Muskoka Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Charles Gardner, during a Tuesday media briefing, as he confirmed additional vaccines are on the way as the region has been identified by the province as a hotspot.

“We are also going to be starting to be receiving AstraZeneca pilots related to that,” said Gardner. “And that would be a partnership with primary care.”

He said the health unit would also be receiving the Moderna vaccine.

“This gives us more options, as Moderna is a little easier to handle than Pfizer, and AstraZeneca is much easier to handle than either Moderna or the Pfizer vaccine.”

He expects the Johnson and Johnson vaccine will be here by April.

“When we start getting a lot more vaccine from the province, which we anticipate to be coming in two weeks, that we’ll be in a really good position to be able to administer it well into the community.”

Gardner told the media briefing that 51,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in Simcoe Muskoka to date, up 8,000 doses from last week, and this includes 15,700 individuals who have received both of their required doses of vaccine. Nearly 95 per cent of residents living in long-term care or retirement homes have received a first jab.

He said there has also been a levelling off of the number of variants of concern (VOC) being reported in Simcoe Muskoka. For the week of Feb. 28, there were 95 VOC as opposed to 119 the week before. However, he noted that VOC for the week of Feb. 28 made up 68 per cent of new COVID cases.

“This is what we would have predicted considering that they are more communicable,” said Gardner. “But as a whole, the numbers have started to come down a bit. And our total case count for COVID has also come down.”

There have been 225 cases of the variant first identified in the U.K., which is up from 191 a week ago, and the number of individuals who have screened positive for a VOC still to be determined is up nearly 100 in the past week to 455. Simcoe Muskoka has also recorded its first two cases of a VOC first identified in Brazil.

“One is close contact with the other,” said Gardner. “and the other is associated with an outbreak in a workplace out of jurisdiction. The individuals themselves are within Simcoe County.”

As of Tuesday, there were 372 active cases of COVID-19 in Simcoe Muskoka compared to 468 a week ago.

With some markers pointing downward, Gardner was pressed about whether the red zone was the place the region really needed to be under the province’s COVID framework.

“You could make the case we could be in either red or orange,” said Gardner. “Our case count 100,000 population per week would be in orange, but the framework doesn’t take into account the variants of concern.”

The doctor said he had seen data from other health units that are in red and a number of them have some figures that would put them in orange.

“I think what my colleagues are doing is taking into account the variants of concern with their advice to the province about where we should lie.”

Gardner said he still considers Simcoe Muskoka to be ground zero in the province for the B117 variant of concern.

Despite that, he remains hopeful.

“I remain optimistic about the progress we’ll make to the summer and over time as we get more and more people protected,” he said. “The decline, I hope, in numbers of cases, you know, we have this concern about a potential third wave with variants of concern, but we also have at our disposal is vaccination, and we have the ability as individuals to do what we can to reduce the risk of transmission in our lives, to ourselves, to our family members and to others.”

He also urged people to be kind to each other and to themselves.

“I feel confident that later in the year we’ll be in a much better, safer, happier and healthier place.”