A frontline worker from a long-term care facility in Elmira was the first person in Waterloo Region to be vaccinated for COVID-19. Siham Ibrahim, a personal support worker at Chartwell Elmira Long-Term Care Residence, received the shot Tuesday at Grand River Hospital.
Ten staff members were among the initial group vaccinated at the region’s first COVID-19 immunization clinic.
“I take care of our wonderful residents, our seniors. And I just felt that this decision was just one more thing to protect them and make sure that I’m doing my best to be there for them and provide the help that they needed, and to overcome the health issues that are already happening,” said Ibrahim after being vaccinated.
The first shipment of Pfizer’s vaccine arrived at the hospital Monday, where its arrival was greeted by the region’s recently created vaccination taskforce. Waterloo Regional Police deputy chief Shirley Hilton, who heads the group, said the team received 2,400 doses of the vaccine.
“Regular clinics will then run through December and into January and those receiving the vaccine will be by appointment only,” she said.
The initial doses have been earmarked for healthcare workers and others on the frontlines such as those at long-term carehomes.
“We prioritized homes based on their level of potential risk,” explained Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, medical officer of health for Waterloo Region. “We do know, with the experience that we’ve had not only in Ontario, but in other jurisdictions that when you have long-term care homes that have a physical layout, the density is such that it’s hard to separate residents.”
Because of both the close proximity and the characteristics of the residents, there’s a higher risk of both spread and serious illness, making such facilities a natural place to start, officials says.
“We just wanted to proceed with those that had the highest potential risk,” said Wang.
Chartwell vice-president Sharon Ranalli welcomed the move to make long-term care homes a priority.
“We extend our gratitude to all levels of government for their expediency in making the vaccine available to the front lines of long-term care and retirement residences. In today’s first vaccine of a Chartwell employee, and in the days to come as more receive it, the Region of Waterloo is giving all citizens hope that the fight against COVID-19 is achievable and will indeed save lives and protect our residents,” she said in a statement.
Grand River Hospital was one of 17 locations in the province chosen to receive the vaccine’s first shipments for logistical reasons such as high case counts and access to a freezer able to store the vaccine at minus-70 degrees Celsius.
Staff are not required to receive the vaccination, but Wang said it will be accessible to those who want it.
“It’s not mandatory, like other vaccines. But we highly, highly encourage everyone that’s offered the vaccine to receive it. It’s safe. It’s effective.”
For GRH president Rob Gagnon, “This is an exciting point in the journey. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, we will ramp up to doing 400 vaccinations a day through the clinic. And as you’ve heard, that will be focused on long-term care home staff as the first priority. And then we’ll continue to follow the priorities established by the province and then augmented here by our task force as we receive more and more vaccines over time. I would anticipate that we will continue to learn from this clinic and use that learning as we start to spread vaccines throughout the community in the months to follow,” he said.
Given the limited number of doses available and the priority to vaccinate frontline workers, Hilton noted there’s no point in residents calling the public health unit, local pharmacies or family doctors to inquire about the getting a shot.
“Vaccines will only be administered at one verified clinic, and at this point are by appointment only. The vaccine is not anticipated to be available to members of the general public until later into 2021. Although a vaccine is an important step towards recovery, safe distribution to the general public will take time. Along with your patience, we ask the community that the community continues to follow the public health guidance,” she said.