Vaccine in short supply as immunization of retirement home residents begins in Simcoe Muskoka

"This is a race against time," says local chief medical officer of health

Beginning this weekend, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) in collaboration with Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) will begin immunizing eligible residents against COVID-19 at retirement homes throughout Simcoe Muskoka.

The campaign was mobilized on Friday for all eligible residents and staff at Roberta Place Retirement Lodge retirement home, in an effort to protect them against what is highly likely a variant of COVID that has struck the adjacent Roberta Place long-term care home.

“Barrie has become ground zero for what is likely a COVID-19 variant of concern, which has spread rapidly throughout Roberta Place and we are concerned that it will spread into our community and into other long-term and retirement homes,” said Dr. Charles Gardner, SMDHU’s medical officer of health. “This is a race against time and we need to use the COVID-19 vaccine as our most effective means to protect these residents. We have to do what we can to prevent other outbreaks.”

Nearly 100 per cent of the Roberta Place residents have been infected, along with 81 staff, resulting in 27 deaths to date. On Wednesday, the SMDHU confirmed that preliminary laboratory testing has identified from six of the cases a high likelihood there is a COVID-19 variant of concern (the UK, South Africa or Brazil variants) in the home. The variant testing was two-part. The first test looks for a particular mutation, which if positive, indicates a very high probability that they are of a variant of concern. The second part of the test is a whole genome sequencing test to determine the exact COVID-19 variant. These variants of concern are more easily transmitted, resulting in much larger numbers of cases. The result of the second part of the test is expected in the days to come.

Supply of the vaccine is extremely low due to a delay of shipments of the Pfizer vaccine to Canada.

“Our absolute first priority must be to protect our most vulnerable residents, and in turn, our region. This variant spreads quickly. Getting the vaccine to those who need it most as quickly as possible will save lives. We must act fast,” said Janice Skot, CEO RVH. “However, we have very little vaccine supply at this time. Immunizing all retirement home residents is the right thing to do, however it has significant implication on those waiting for their second dose of the vaccine. We need provincial help.”

To date, all eligible long-term care home residents in Simcoe Muskoka have received the first dose by the health unit’s mobile teams. Almost 10,000 healthcare workers and essential caregivers have been immunized at the COVID-19 immunization clinic in Barrie, which opened Dec. 22, and is a partnership between the SMDHU, RVH and the City of Barrie.

Since then, between the Barrie clinic and the mobile clinics, more than 14,000 (as of Jan. 20) doses of the vaccine have been administered to long-term care and retirement home residents, employees and essential caregivers and prioritized hospital workers in Simcoe Muskoka.