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Vaccine eligibility expanded, but rollout remains slow in region

More residents are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in Waterloo Region due an expansion of the high-priority group, including pregnant women and those living in certain parts of the cities.

The province announced last week that pregnant women are now eligible for the vaccine given that the are deemed at risk of severe illness and hospitalization. That group has been added to Phase 2 of the vaccine rollout under highest-risk health conditions.

“We just received confirmation from the province this morning that as of April 23, all pregnant individuals will be eligible to register for vaccination appointments under the highest risk health conditions in phase two prior authorization guidance. We are working to add this group to pre-registration eligibility list for all pregnant women,” Shirley Hilton, head of the region’s vaccine task force, said last Friday at the weekly pandemic briefing.

“It is important to prioritize individuals who are pregnant for the COVD-19 vaccine and for anyone who is pregnant to have the opportunity to receive the vaccine as soon as possible,” said Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, medical officer of health for the Region of Waterloo.

“I encourage those who are pregnant to pre-register for the vaccine right away and if they have concerns about the vaccine and pregnancy to speak with their health care provider.”

Expanded eligibility also applies to a wider slate of workers, including those at schools, workers responding to critical events, enforcement, inspection and compliance roles, individuals working in childcare, foster care agency workers, Food manufacturing and distribution workers, and agriculture and farm workers.

The age of those eligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine available at pharmacies and clinics has been dropped to 40.

“This week, I made an appointment with my local pharmacy to get the AstraZeneca vaccine. If you’re 40 or older, you are eligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine available at participating pharmacies or primary care practices. I strongly encourage you to get the first vaccine that becomes available to you,” said Wang.

The region’s clinics are still dealing with shortages of vaccines, causing some temporary scheduling changes and closures, said Hilton.

“Although we’ve had to close a couple of clinics, others have remained open, and we encourage everyone who has received a vaccination appointment opportunity. Please book your appointment as soon as you receive your notification. This assists us in opening more appointments to those eligible waiting in pre-registration. And one final reminder, please remember to cancel your appointment if you received your vaccine from another clinic,” she said.

The operation of the regional clinics relies heavily on volunteers, noted regional Chair Karen Redman.

“They have made the vaccine rollout possible, and have helped so many services to continue throughout this pandemic. There are 470 active volunteers in our vaccine clinics and volunteer shifts are filled up within a matter of hours once they’re posted. On behalf of the regional council and the entire community. I want to give you a heartfelt thank-you.”

At midweek, 183,097 doses had been administered in the region, representing 36 per cent of eligible residents over the age of 18. Those fully vaccinated, some 16,000, represent less than three per cent of the population, however.

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