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Niagara ‘doing quite well’ and not behind in administering vaccines, says public health

Niagara’s acting medical officer of health says the region is above the provincial average when it comes to administering doses amid the first phase of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

Dr. Mustafa Hirji says the region is “doing quite well” and is ahead of a number of its peers across the province based on data from the Ontario COVID-19 Science Table as of March 5.

“Some of the language that’s been used around Niagara being a bit behind in terms of vaccination, I think is maybe overstating it,” said Hirji.

Read more: Ontario reports 1,185 new coronavirus cases, 6 more deaths

“I think we’re working through a larger group of high-risk populations, so that means we’ve been a little slower to be able to vaccinate the 80-plus population.”

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Last week, a release from Niagara’s regional government said it was “about a month behind” other districts in the province with its plan to administer COVID-19 vaccines, due to fewer vaccines arriving later than other places in Ontario.

However, Hirji believes the recent “chatter” about being behind may be related to a focus on vaccinating high-risk residents and workers in senior-specific settings in Niagara’s institutional populations, which are more sizeable than other provincial health units’.

According to distribution numbers pulled from regional public health units and hospital web sites as of March 5, Hirji said close to 60 doses per 1,000 population have been administered in Niagara, ahead of the provincial average of 56 per 1,000.

The region is ahead of Waterloo, Halton, Haldimand-Norfolk and Peel. Hamilton is averaging close to 70 doses per 1,000 population.

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“We’re absolutely keeping pace in terms of getting the number of doses into people’s arms and that despite having a slower start to vaccination,” Hirji said.

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“That despite seeing some of our Moderna vaccine actually being reallocated to other regions.”

Even with new approvals for the AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson vaccines creating more options, Hirji said the projected end-of-month deliveries still may not be fast enough to avoid another surge in cases.

As of last week, the majority of hospitalizations and intensive care admissions in Ontario are within the 60 to 79 age range, according to science table data.

Read more: Senior Canadian scientists question government plans to delay 2nd dose of COVID-19 vaccine

Hirji worries that the current vaccination strategy, which targets that group in Phase 2, will not get that segment immunized before a possible third wave.

The news comes off the heels of the latest update of the province’s rollout, which has an April to July timetable for those aged 60 to 70 to get their first vaccine dose.

“I don’t know if the vaccinations is going to be enough to get us to the point where we can avoid seeing a surge of hospitalizations and a surge in ICU occupancy if there is a third wave,” said Hirji.

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Mass vaccination sites are a part of Ontario’s Phase 2 plan, which has earmarked 113 large clinics in 26 of 34 public health units, expected to roll out this month.

Queen’s Park is expecting to administer 80 per cent of all provincial vaccinations through mass clinics during phases 2 and 3 of its plan.

Niagara, Hamilton and Halton will receive close to a million additional doses of vaccines to target known hot spots with high rates of death.

Read more: ‘A lot of suffering’ — Frontline health-care workers describe the moments before death by COVID-19

Eleven sites have been selected in Niagara for the Phase 2 rollout based on a strategy that ensures 90 per cent of the population will not have to travel longer than 15 minutes to receive a vaccine and that all sites have access to public transit.

They include:

  • Fort Erie – Leisure Plex
  • Grimsby – YMCA
  • Lincoln – Lincoln Community Centre
  • Niagara-on-the-Lake – Community Centre
  • Niagara Falls – MacBain Community Centre
  • Pelham – Meridian Community Centre
  • Port Colborne – Vale Health and Wellness Centre
  • St. Catharines / Thorold – Brock University
  • Wainfleet – Community Hall
  • Welland – YMCA
  • West Lincoln – Community Centre

Local pharmacies and family doctors are also expected to be in the plan down the road when supply is made more readily available, according to the regional council.

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Niagara will be using the province’s vaccine booking system to register residents when it’s up and running in mid-March.

Close to 12,000 vaccine doses have been given out in the region as of March 9.

Almost 950,000 people have received shots across Ontario. Close 276,000 have been fully vaccinated, according to the Ministry of Health.

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