Starting next week, residents under the jurisdiction of Southwestern Public Health (SWPH) will no longer have to travel to London, Ont., to visit a COVID-19 vaccine clinic.
On Thursday, SWPH provided media with a tour of two new mass immunization clinics that have been set up in St. Thomas and Woodstock.
The clinics are intended to serve those in SWPH, which includes the aforementioned cities, along with the rest of Oxford County and all of Elgin County.
Global News attended the tour at the vaccine clinic in Woodstock, which has been set up inside the city’s Goff Hall within the Reeves Community Complex.
The facility is wheelchair accessible and has a parking lot for visitors.
Those visiting Goff Hall for a vaccine will follow a linear path from initial screening to a staging area, followed by the shot itself and a final stop at a recovery area.
The path for visitors was made linear in order to avoid having folks cross by each other during the process. A similar setup was made for the clinic in St. Thomas.
With the exception of security, the clinic will be completely staffed by SWPH, according to health unit’s program manager Mary Van Den Neucker.
When the clinic opens on Monday, only the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine will be provided. The vaccines are being stored in a confidential location in Woodstock that’s being kept private due to security concerns.
Van Den Neucker says 100 doses will be handed out the first day, with more than 1,000 doses expected to be given by the end of the week.
The number of doses they can provide depends on how many are allotted to SWPH by the Ontario government.
“Whatever allotment we get, we plan on giving, and we have a planning department that actually correlates a formula to tell us how many we can actually do,” Van Den Neucker said.
“We would likely extend the day to ensure that we can encompass all those vaccines in that week.”
Van Den Neucker says SWPH only learns about how many doses they’ll receive no more than two weeks in advance, prompting a fluid operating plan for the clinics.
The first week of immunizations at both the Woodstock and St. Thomas clinics will be treated as a sort of testing phase for health officials.
“Then we’ll have a sort of quality improvement review … to work out any of the kinks before we start to ramp up,” Van Den Neucker said.
The ramping up process involves extending operating hours for the clinics into weekends and evenings. Next week, the clinics will only operate between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
In order to ramp up, SWPH requires more doses along with new types of coronavirus vaccines that free the health unit from the storage limitations of Pfizer’s shot.
SWPH also wants to expand its vaccination reach with pop-up clinics and other mobile options, along with potentially adding tents or drive-thru options at the existing clinics in Woodstock and St. Thomas.
“There’s some other options available to us that we’re looking at, so that we can reach some of the farther corners of the counties,” Van Den Neucker.
“Right now, this is where we have to be based on the recommendations and the stringent rules we have to use with Pfizer.”
Both the clinics in Woodstock and St. Thomas are appointment-only and those who do not have one will be turned away.
Certain high-priority health-care workers, Indigenous folks 55 and older and anyone else who is 80 or older are eligible to register for an appointment. The 80 or older criteria also applies to those who were born in 1941, but haven’t yet turned 80.
A full list of who’s eligible can be found on SWPH’s website.
SWPH says all appointments for those 80 or older for the week of March 15 have already been filled, but booking for the following week is set to reopen on Monday at 8 a.m.
Appointments can be booked online at www.covidvaccinelm.ca or over the phone at 226-289-3560. The phone lines are open between 8 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. for seven days a week.
The same booking system is also used by the Middlesex-London Heath Unit.