Ottawa health officials are hoping all residents of long-term care homes in the city will have the chance to get inoculated against the novel coronavirus in the next two weeks, depending on the supply of vaccines from the province.
The Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre kicked off the city’s efforts to vaccinate vulnerable residents of long-term care homes on Tuesday, the first long-term care home in Ottawa to do so.
Ottawa Public Health tweeted a photo of one of the home’s residents, 93-year-old Arnold Roberts, smiling post-jab on Tuesday.
The PRVHC planned to deliver the first of two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to 100 of its residents on Tuesday, said Jay Innes, the home’s director of communications, in an email to Global News.
The shots are being administered by PRVHC’s own nurses, CEO Akos Hoffer told reporters at a press conference Tuesday. He said seeing a “friendly face” giving the shot would help some of the home’s residents feel more comfortable receiving the vaccine, especially those suffering from dementia.
The vaccines are being delivered on-site at Perley Rideau, marking a departure from the first stage of the local vaccination campaign, which saw all doses administered at the Ottawa Hospital’s Civic campus.
The province recently waived its requirement that the Pfizer vaccine be administered only at predetermined sites equipped with necessary cold storage technology to preserve the doses, allowing Ottawa to start going into nursing homes to inoculate residents.
Anthony Di Monte, head of the city’s vaccine distribution task force, said pharmacists are on hand during the initial phases of the on-site delivery to make sure doses are properly handled and prepared before handing the vaccine over to clinicians and nurses doing the injections.
Staff at PRVHC were among the first front-line care workers in Ottawa to receive the vaccine in mid-December, and some will receive their second of two doses at the home this week as well.
In total, 810 staff and caregivers at PRVHC have registered to receive the vaccine.
The home said in a statement these long-term care residents will be the first in the Champlain region of eastern Ontario to receive the vaccine.
Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, said Tuesday that the city is looking to provide all interested residents in long-term care homes with their first dose as soon as possible, “in the next week or two.”
The city finds out week-by-week how many doses of the vaccine it will receive from the province, which handles distribution.
“We are very much at the mercy of the amount that’s allocated to Ottawa,” Di Monte said, though he did not criticize the province’s distribution strategy. He said the city’s distribution task force is ready to administer all of the doses it receives.
“That is our top priority. Every drop that we can we will be putting into the arms of those vulnerable residents,” he said.
The PRVHC has faced three coronavirus outbreaks during the pandemic, the latest ending on Oct. 26, 2020. In total, 74 people have tested positive for the virus in connection with the home and 13 residents with COVID-19 have died, according to Ottawa Public Health’s coronavirus dashboard.
Etches said Tuesday that though many of the most at-risk residents and workers in the city are now receiving first and second doses of the vaccine, she does not expect the vaccination campaign will have an impact on the rates of transmission in the city for many months.
What it will hopefully affect, starting in February, are the rates of hospitalizations and deaths in the city, she said.
More than 80 per cent of Ottawa’s deaths related to COVID-19 have taken place in the city’s long-term care homes, Etches said. The vaccine’s first impact, therefore, could be in preventing loss of life in this vulnerable population by preventing transmission within the homes and from outside the community via staff.
For the rest of the population still waiting to receive the vaccine, that means practising physical distancing, wearing a mask and staying home to limit opportunities for the virus to spread throughout the community.
“We can’t rely on the vaccine to do it,” Etches said.
Ottawa expects to vaccinate 680,000 residents by July, according to a memo sent by Di Monte and Etches on Monday, though that figure is also contingent on the supply of doses received from the province.