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‘They will get their vaccine’: Ottawa residents with no 2nd dose bookings not forgotten, officials say

Ottawa health officials say the province's COVID-19 vaccine booking system will soon add the ability to book second vaccine doses only to resolve an issue affecting some 17,000 residents in the city. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Ottawa health officials are moving to reassure residents who feel like they are slipping through the cracks of the city’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout without an appointment booking for a second shot.

Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, and Anthony Di Monte, the head of Ottawa’s vaccine distribution task force, fielded questions from city councillors Wednesday morning following an update on the local vaccination rollout.

River Coun. Riley Brockington said his office is getting calls from many constituents concerned that they or their parents are not going to get a second COVID-19 vaccine appointment within the recommended intervals.

Ottawa Public Health booked some 17,000 people aged 80 and older for initial vaccine doses through a temporary local system before Ontario launched its centralized platform in mid-March, Etches said. That’s left them without a date for a second shot, as the provincial system currently doesn’t allow for just booking follow-ups.

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Push grows to get vulnerable Canadians their second COVID-19 vaccine dose – May 19, 2021

“We have people crying on the phone because they’re worried,” Brockington told Di Monte and Etches at Wednesday morning’s council meeting. “They think they’ve been forgotten.”

Di Monte took the chance to reassure the thousands of people stuck in limbo that getting them second doses is a “top priority” for Ottawa health officials.

“We’re well aware of this. I want to assure them they will get their vaccine,” he said.

Mayor Jim Watson, who confirmed he’s heard “angst” from the 80-plus cohort about this problem, said he, Di Monte and Etches met with Nepean MPP Lisa MacLeod, a member of the provincial cabinet, last week and were assured this gap in vaccine booking will be fixed.

Read more: Officials promise plan for Ottawa residents without 2nd COVID-19 vaccine dose booked

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Brockington asked Di Monte whether, since the city took care of booking the initial doses for this group, the local task force and OPH could take charge of booking second doses as well.

While he said it is possible to do some of the outstanding appointments for this group in “chunks,” Di Monte said organizing 17,000 appointments for the group would be an outsized undertaking for Ottawa’s teams. He said he has confidence the provincial system, which would be the most straightforward way to book these follow-ups, will be updated soon to solve this problem.

Also waiting for second shots in Ottawa are early recipients of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Click to play video: 'Select Ontarians scramble to book 2nd AstraZeneca dose' Select Ontarians scramble to book 2nd AstraZeneca dose
Select Ontarians scramble to book 2nd AstraZeneca dose – May 26, 2021

The Ontario government confirmed earlier this week that the province will administer the AstraZeneca shot as a second dose for this group, starting with those that received it in mid-March.

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Etches said most residents who received the initial doses from pharmacies in Ontario or primary care physicians are getting direct follow-up calls from these providers to offer them a second shot.

While the majority of these recipients were in Toronto, Windsor and Kingston, where the pharmacy rollout was piloted, she said any Ottawa residents who travelled outside the region for a shot would likely receive a call as well.

Those who are interested in receiving a second vaccine that’s not AstraZeneca will likely be waiting until sometime in June when research is released on the effectiveness of mixing viral vector vaccines such as AstraZeneca with mRNA-based formulations like the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, she said.

Read more: Canadian study to look at effects of mixing COVID-19 vaccines

Etches provided a bit of hope to other Ottawa residents hoping they could get a second vaccine dose earlier than the current four-month intervals.

Should vaccine supply continue to accelerate in Ontario, it is possible that residents will be able to reschedule their second shot.

“People may well have a chance to move up their second dose appointments, but we don’t know that for sure yet,” she said.

Critical health workers in Ontario have already had their second-dose interval shortened. Di Monte said that all first responders are likely to be fully vaccinated by the end of this week thanks to this sped-up timeline.

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Etches, who said Wednesday that she supports reopening schools in Ottawa, said it’s likely, given the demographic coverage of vaccines, that a majority of education workers in the city are now inoculated with at least one dose.

Watson and Keith Egli, chair of the Ottawa Board of Health, echoed their support for a return to in-person learning and called on Premier Doug Ford to reopen classrooms before the end of the school year.

The mayor said 60 per cent of residents will have gotten an initial dose of the vaccine by the end of the day on Wednesday, with more than 550,000 doses of the vaccine administered in the city to date.

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“We do not have vaccine hesitancy in the city of Ottawa,” Watson said in his update at the start of the council meeting.

Ottawa is expecting to receive 250,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine in total over the course of June, Di Monte said.

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