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York Region looking to give COVID-19 vaccines to people aged 45 to 60 in hotspot neighbourhoods

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Toronto opens new mass vaccination site in Thorncliffe Park' COVID-19: Toronto opens new mass vaccination site in Thorncliffe Park
WATCH ABOVE: Toronto has opened another mass vaccination clinic, this time in Thorncliffe Park. Unlike the previous locations, this location isn’t City-run and changes up how the patient moves through it. As Matthew Bingley reports, it’s not the only change the city is making to help get shots in arms – Mar 24, 2021

While public health units across Ontario have been moving to provide COVID-19 vaccines to older, at-risk residents along with other priority groups, York Region’s medical officer of health says he and his staff are looking to vaccinate younger adults in hotspot neighbourhoods.

In an update on the region’s vaccination efforts to York Regional Council on Thursday, Dr. Karim Kurji said he is optimistic mass vaccination clinics in the region will be able to keep up the speed of inoculations. While the provincial portal for booking vaccinations based on age remains at 75 and older, York Region days ago accepted appointments for those 70 and older.

“Most experts think the variants will win in the so-called war with vaccines, but we believe we can actually have vaccines win over the variants. This requires a lot of speed and nimbleness and in general we have been following the provincial work that has been done with respect to the prioritization of groups,” Kurji said in a statement after his presentation, noting he hopes to lower the age-based eligibility to 65 and older by Tuesday.

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“The general plan is to keep moving very rapidly through the five-year age cohorts and the optimistic plan is to do that every five to seven days.”

Read more: Here’s who’s eligible for COVID-19 vaccines in 2nd phase of Ontario’s plan

However, he said the region’s vaccination task force is looking at how to address the needs of those under 60 who may have severe health conditions.

Kurji said while they’re still working on the logistics of responding to that demographic while working to lower the age brackets, the region needs to be “more tactical” in responding to the spread of COVID-19 variants of concern in areas with higher case volumes.

“Whilst we have currently been immunizing the elderly, as far as variants go, we’re not going to be reaching them because only about 10 per cent of the variants occur in people age 70 (and older),” he said.

“The majority of the variants (70 per cent) are occurring between the ages of 20 and 70 and our strategy then, given that we don’t have enough vaccines for everyone, is to concentrate only on the high incidence areas.”

Read more: York Region expands COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to residents aged 75+

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Kurji said staff have identified four postal code areas in Vaughan and one in Markham where there have been increased cases.

“I know this will pose some inequities with respect to who gets the vaccine, but it is just a tactical move to vaccinate people in those high incidence areas to prevent the ongoing transmission of the variants,” Kurji said.

As for who would vaccinate the younger age group, he called on Premier Doug Ford and provincial officials to bring AstraZeneca vaccine doses to pharmacies in the region so those could potentially be administered to those people.

“This will require some discussions with the province. If the province isn’t too keen on that idea, then we may have to use our clinics to target those particular age groups,” he said.

Read more: York Region ramps up COVID-19 vaccine rollout

“The plan then would be to target ages 55 to 60 in four of these postal areas in the City of Vaughan and in one postal area in the City of Markham. This would add about 23,000 to 24,000 people to be immunized.

“Once we’ve been through that, then we would go down to the 50 to 55 year age group, and then once we’ve been through there, we want to do the 45 to 50 and 40 to 45.”

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Ontario is still in phase one of the provincial government’s three-phase vaccination plan. It prioritizes front-line health-care workers, long-term care and retirement home residents and staff, Indigenous adults and chronic home care recipients.

According to the government’s plans, health-care workers across Ontario are expected to move into phase two sometime in April. The exact date has yet to be announced.

Read more: Ontario opens COVID-19 vaccines to more people, expands pharmacy pilot amid supply uncertainty

The second phase will focus on the following sets of people: Those who live and work in high-risk congregate settings, caregivers in certain congregate settings, certain primary caregivers, essential frontline workers who can’t work from home, individuals with high-risk chronic conditions, and communities at greater risk.

Officials said the primary priority groups are people 60 and older, people 50 and older in hot spot regions, people with the highest- and high-risk health conditions, and those in high-risk congregate settings. The secondary priority groups are the remaining people with at-risk health conditions and essential workers who can’t work from home.

According to the Ontario Ministry of Health prioritization guidelines released on Tuesday, it was estimated all those 60 and above who wanted a vaccine dose will have had the opportunity to get inoculated by the first week of June (depending on supply). Depending on health conditions or other risk factors, that population and others affected should be offered vaccines in April or May. It was estimated essential workers won’t widely be offered vaccines until June.

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