Province diverted Moderna vaccine away from Simcoe-Muskoka prior to deadly Roberta Place outbreak

Local ration sent to hot spots like Toronto to vaccinate residents of long-term care

Short on time? Here’s what you need to know:
-A local health official says earlier access to the Moderna version of the COVID-19 vaccine would have lessened the impact of an outbreak at Roberta Place.
-Simcoe Muskoka’s shipment of the Moderna vaccine, expected weeks ago, was instead diverted to hot spots like Toronto where it was used to inoculate long-term care residents there.
-The health unit continues to probe whether the Roberta Place outbreak involves one of three known variants of the virus.

Even as healthcare officials work to confirm whether a fatal outbreak of COVID-19 at Barrie’s Roberta Place involves a variant of the disease, one Simcoe-Muskoka official says early access to the Moderna vaccine would have prevented much of it.

The provincial government instead diverted Simcoe-Muskoka’s ration of the more portable vaccine to other hot spots prior to the outbreak.

122 residents of Roberta Place have confirmed positive for COVID-19; nineteen have died

“I can only wish I could turn the clock back. If we had vaccine a month before we went in on Saturday (January 17) I think this outbreak would be a lot less severe. It’s unfortunate that we were not able to move the vaccine we had,” said Dr. Colin Lee, associate medical officer of health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit. “With the Moderna, we had a lot more flexibility and we would have moved it in right away.”

RELATED: LOCAL HEALTH UNIT IMMUNIZES LONG-TERM CARE RESIDENTS THROUGHOUT SIMCOE-MUSKOKA IN LESS THAN A WEEK

“It was a number of weeks ago where we were expecting our first batch of Moderna vaccine. And we were planning then to go straight to the long-term care homes with it,” he added, confirming the shipment was instead diverted. “It was rerouted as far as I understand it, from the provincial government to areas in the province of highest need. So, if I understand correctly, it went to places like Toronto, where there is higher incidence of COVID-19. And it was then subsequently used for long term care homes there.”

Moderna says its COVID-19 vaccine highly effective in late trial
The Moderna vaccine does not require as stringent storage conditions as its Pfizer counterpart and is thus more portable

The outbreak at Roberta Place was declared on January 8, and the speed at which it spread within the home had experts believing one of three variants was behind it. “It was very early on that we certainly were contemplating, and many were thinking that, that this has to be the variant,” continued Dr. Lee. “

RELATED: LOCAL EFFORT TO LEAD ROBERTA PLACE OUTBREAK RESPONSE DESPITE OPPOSITION PARTY CALLS FOR MILITARY INTERVENTION

While Lee posits early access to the vaccine would have helped avoid much of the strife at the facility, he adds there was little else that could have been done to prevent it. “I’ll be honest with you, with the rapid speed that it went, knowing that this home did everything they needed to do to prepare, I doubt that it would have prevented an outbreak for sure,” Lee told Barrie 360. “And how much of it could have been prevented, it’s hard to know. But I do know everyone did what they could in preparation.”

To date, the outbreak at Roberta Place has claimed 19 lives. The health unit has vaccinated all residents who were willing and able to receive it.