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Pace of vaccination to pick up after slow rollout in region, province

Those receiving the COVID-19 vaccine in Waterloo Region measure in the hundreds, but the health officials are looking to ramp up the process.

Following the approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Canada, the Waterloo Region Vaccine Distribution Task Force has been moving quickly to ensure safe administration of supply and delivery to those who need it most, says the group’s chair, Waterloo Regional Police Chief Shirley Hilton.

“The Vaccine Distribution Task Force continues to meet regularly and takes its lead from the provincial task force. To date, we’ve held three clinics and have administered approximately 230 vaccines. Scheduling dates and times of the clinics in Waterloo Region were decided on following directions from the Ministry of Health while ensuring stability of health care resources for residents over the holidays,” she said, noting the goal is to use all available supplies.

“This week, the clinics are expected to vaccinate 300 to 400 people per day. We have now been informed by the ministry that sites should continue holding clinics using their full number of received doses rather than holding back the second dose, while also planning to ensure adequate inventory of second doses at the 21-day mark.”

To date, some 2,800 people have been vaccinated.

“We anticipate another vaccine shipment next week and will continue to prioritize long-term care staff and high-risk retirement home staff, in addition to essential caregivers from both settings. Where there are clinics, spots that cannot be filled or unused spots… doses will be allocated to high-risk hospital staff,” said Hilton.

“I’m immensely proud of all those who have been working in the clinics, as well as those working behind the scenes who were able to mobilize so quickly with the early arrival of the vaccine to ensure we were able to run clinics prior to Christmas. A tremendous amount of work has been done and will continue to be done as we move forward with scheduling of more clinics,” she added, noting Grand River Hospital is one of 17 locations in Ontario to administer the shots. 

The local task force takes direction from its provincial counterpart, which recently released an ethical framework to continue priority vaccinations and distribution throughout Ontario. There are six principles of this new framework: minimize harms and maximize benefits, equity, fairness, transparency, legitimacy and public trust. 

“The COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force developed this framework to ensure that its feedback and recommendations are consistently guided by fundamentally important ethical values like equity, fairness and transparency,” said Dr. Maxwell Smith, a bioethicist and assistant professor at Western University of the announcement. “We are continuing to ensure that diverse perspectives are captured in our feedback and recommendations so that all Ontarians who want to get vaccinated against this deadly virus are accounted for. Vaccines are the most effective way to prevent infectious diseases and are our best defense to help us get back to normal lives.”

Supplies of the vaccine in Ontario currently outstrip the number of vaccinations being carried out, with the COVID-19 Canada Open Data Working Group estimating the province has administered about 25 per cent of the available doses.

The Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health was able to launch its first vaccination clinic this week, with the first shipment arriving Tuesday. The initial clinic began the following day. Some 500 long-term care and retirement home staff members are to be vaccinated first after the delay in beginning the program.

“Public Health has been preparing to begin vaccinating our region against COVID-19 for months. While we can recognize this is a complex logistical challenge, I share the frustration with everyone in the region at this delay. I want to assure residents of Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph that Public Health remains ready to administer the vaccine as soon as it arrives,” said medical officer of health Dr. Nicola Mercer in a statement.

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