MLHU focuses on outreach amid ‘4th wave’ of COVID-19 in unvaccinated people

Public Health nurse Jill Seara extracting doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the Mount Brydges Vaccination Clinic on Feb. 18, 2021. Sawyer Bogdan/Global News

The Middlesex-London Health Unit is hoping to reach unvaccinated residents amid what medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie has described as a “fourth wave of COVID” among that subset of the population.

The MLHU has reported daily case counts in the single digits for over a week now, but Mackie notes that almost all of those cases involve the roughly one-fifth of the population that is unvaccinated.

Read more: Majority of COVID-19 infections, deaths now among unvaccinated people in Canada, data says

“You can take those numbers and multiply them by five if you want to look at a rate among that population,” he said.

“Essentially, we have a fourth wave of COVID right now that is moving through our unvaccinated population. There’s a bit of spillover to those who are vaccinated, and so it’s so important that we all do get the vaccine.”

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The health unit reported updated vaccination data on Tuesday, dated the end of day Saturday.

While the number of people age 12 and older who are fully vaccinated in the region climbed from 34.8 per cent as of July 3 to 46.3 per cent on July 10, the number of people who have gotten their first dose increased by just over a percentage point from 76.7 per cent to 77.8 per cent in that same time frame.

Read more: ‘What’s the plan’ — Ontario family doctors seek clarity on their COVID-19 vaccine rollout role

The age group with the lowest first dose vaccine uptake is those aged 30 to 34, with 65.4 per cent having received at least one dose.

The next cohort with the lowest per cent of residents to have received at least one dose is the age group from 25 to 29, at 69.4 per cent. Of those 18 to 24, meanwhile, 72 per cent have received at least one dose.

The lag in the vaccination uptake among those aged 30 to 34 cannot be explained by eligibility date, as the MLHU expanded vaccine appointment-booking eligibility to everyone 18 and older on May 18. Those 12 to 17, of which 70.3 per cent have received at least one dose, became eligible to book appointments starting May 22.

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Vaccine data as of end of day July 10, 2021. via Middlesex-London Health Unit

Mackie notes that the 30-to-34 age group is “under a lot of pressure,” with many people building their careers, caring for aging loved ones and raising young families.

“It’s a population that is often quite stretched. So some of the things that we’re doing to reach that population are providing more clinics in more places and really opening up the walk-in options so that even if folks are stressed or don’t have a lot of time, they can take half an hour out of their day, run over to a clinic, get the shot and get back to their lives.”

In addition to increasing the number of locations and decreasing the time commitment and planning involved in getting vaccinated, the health unit is also planning to work with more family doctors.

Read more: COVID-19 — MLHU announces series of pop-up, walk-in vaccine clinics

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Currently, Mackie says there is strong uptake for vaccine in primary care providers in multidisciplinary offices but more needs to be done with single practitioner officers and independent family doctors’ offices.

“We’re still very much open to supporting those clinics to take up the vaccine. It will be crucial long-term to make sure that we’re able to get up to around 90 per cent coverage to have primary care providers in the room and on the team. We’re very much looking forward to bringing more of them on board as they become willing and able to do so.”

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Mackie also suggested that some of the reason why uptake is as high as it is among people in their 20s may be in part that there were many infections among that age group.

“Most people in their 20s have a friend who was hit pretty hard, maybe many friends, by COVID and so they’re very, very aware of the risks of that virus and very keen to get vaccinated.”

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As for the proportion of the unvaccinated group that is either anti-vaccination or vaccine-hesitant, Mackie says the health unit does not have local polling data.

“We are relying on polling that’s happening at the provincial and national level.”

Read more: ‘Like running a marathon’ — How to reach Canadians still not vaccinated against COVID-19

According to recent data from Statistics Canada, 90.5 per cent of Canadian adults who had not yet been vaccinated at the time of its survey, conducted April 12 to May 12, indicated that they were likely or very likely to do so in the future.

“When asked for the main reason they had not been vaccinated, most gave a logistical reason (89.7 per cent), such as not having been part of a priority group or having had an appointment in the future. A further 7.8 per cent said they did not want to get vaccinated at this time, while 2.5 per cent said they did not want to get vaccinated at all,” Statistics Canada reported.

Of those who did not want to get vaccinated at this time or at all, the top two concerns cited were mistrust in the safety and mistrust in the effectiveness of the vaccines.

Mackie says there are “a number of falsehoods that are spreading around the vaccine.”

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“The most common one recently has been around the vaccine impacting fertility, which isn’t just a theoretical idea that doesn’t make any sense, it’s actually something that’s been proven to be inaccurate.”

Mackie pointed to Pfizer’s trial, which saw more than twice as many people become pregnant in the vaccinated group than in the placebo group.

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