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Today’s vaccine plans will have to change tomorrow

Timelines for a vaccine rollout appear to change daily as new manufacturers win approval and the supply increases. Today’s plans are likely to bear little resemblance to what actually happens, however, as the situation evolves ahead of even the best-laid plans.

In Waterloo Region, vaccine clinics have now expanded beyond Grand River Hospital and mobile visits to long-term care homes, though the scale remains small and the rollout inconsequential to most residents. Plans for additional clinic sites, including a possible Wellesley location to cover the townships, are likely to be irrelevant by the time doses are available in large enough numbers to cover everyone.

Canada now has four COVID-19 vaccines approved for use here, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca-Oxford and, most recently, Johnson & Johnson. The latest of those is something of a game-changer, being a single-dose vaccine that doesn’t require extraordinary handling and storage measures, meaning it could be shipped out to pharmacies and doctor’s offices much like the flu vaccine. That promises to expedite matters, make getting the shot more accessible and perhaps bypass the local health units in favour of a province-wide rollout, which would be an improvement over the patchwork version we see today.

Supply, of course, remains the biggest hurdle today. There just isn’t enough vaccine available to immunize people on a significant scale.

To be sure, each dose administered is helpful, not only to the individual but on the path towards a return to some form of normalcy in which the virus is no longer a major threat. That, naturally, is the whole point of the exercise. Which is why it’s essential the job not be bungled, with coordinated action the key. For proof of that, we can look the U.S. where a new administration prioritized fighting the virus instead of downplaying its impact. While still leading the world in the number of cases, the country went from basket case when it comes to inoculations to doing significantly better than many others, including Canada.

Once the logistics are sorted out, the real hurdle will be getting enough of us on board for the vaccine to make a difference. There’s no exact number, but experts typically estimate about a 70 to 85 per cent participation rate for so-called herd immunity to kick in. If too few of us get vaccinated, the virus will continue to spread.

Ottawa has now rolled out efforts to promote public confidence in the vaccines, hoping most of us will be on board with the idea when a shot is available.  The federal government argues community-driven engagement can be helpful in that regard, particularly among segments of the population that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.

Convincing the majority of us to get vaccinated will take some work. Right now, the vaccine isn’t available to most of us, so we’ve got time to monitor how things go with the millions of people globally who have gone down that road.

Health officials are already touting the safety of the vaccines. They undoubtedly hope that real-world data will continue to back that opinion. Such assurances will go a long way in convincing the uncertain among us.

That said, vaccines are becoming more widely available at a faster pace – albeit at different rates among regions and nations – so we’ll have to speed up the process of instilling confidence.

Which brings us back to planning. Groups such as the regional task force are mapping out schedules and locations, perhaps fully aware that most if not all of their ideas will have to be changed due to evolving circumstances. Having a visible and flexible plan, including timelines people can appreciate, will be a big part of boosting local confidence in the vaccination process.

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