There are around two dozen COVID-19 vaccination clinics scattered across Ontario, and the one located in Barrie and operated by the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) is among the most productive.
“We have, as of January the fourth, vaccinated over 3,000 staff who work in long-term care facilities, retirement homes, and hospitals,” said Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for the SMDHU. “On January the fourth alone, some 599 doses were administered; that was the highest number we’ve done to date, but we anticipate being able to do more in the future.”
“It’s actually put us as the fourth most active site for vaccination in the province, out of over 20 sites that exist in the province,” he said. “We are doing well, and committed to moving at a pace that would allow us to use up the vaccine that we get.”
“I know that the province has an expectation that we would reach most people by August. So that’s a timeline we’re working with and we take our duty to achieve this very seriously,” Gardner added.
Due to the limitations of the currently available Pfizer vaccine, in that it must be stored at -70 degrees Celsius, the clinic in Barrie is only being used to vaccinate those in northern Simcoe and Muskoka due to its proximity to Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH). “We are dependent on RVH because they have the required deep freeze unit, the freezer that will take the vaccine down to minus 70 degrees centigrade as required for the Pfizer vaccine,” commented Gardner. “I anticipate we’ll continue to get the Pfizer vaccine for a very long time through this pandemic, it will be one of the major vaccine types. And so certainly that partnership will continue, it’s been a very good partnership and it will continue.” Gardner hinted that permission could soon come from the province to begin looking at ways of moving the Pfizer vaccine off-site.
Those living in areas like Bradford West-Gwillimbury, New Tecumseth, and Adjala-Tosorontio and are eligible to have access to the vaccine will likely receive theirs from Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket until a more portable vaccine is available.
Long-term care healthcare workers and residents, as well as those with chronic healthcare concerns, and those in high-risk Indigenous communities are among the first priority group to have access to the vaccine. Dr. Gardner says there is as-yet a plan in place to vaccinate other groups. “As time unfolds, and we get more vaccine and more direction from the province, we will need to expand out to those groups as well and find ways of reaching them.”
Province-wide, some 50,000 people have been vaccinated thus far, all among groups identified as the highest priority in the province’s three-phase approach.