Region prepares to ramp up vaccination clinics
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Region prepares to ramp up vaccination clinics

The region of Waterloo this week hit a milestone in adminstering one million vaccinations since vaccines became available a year into the pandemic. The goal posts are shifting, however, as the Omicron variant accelerates the need for booster shots.

Despite the holidays, residents should take all precautions to slow the spread, says Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, the region’s medical officer of health. That includes scaling back social contacts, limiting gatherings, getting a third dose of vaccine, testing children or adults with symptoms, staying home if you’re feeling ill, physical distancing and wearing a mask in public settings.

“To effectively blunt the Omicron wave, we cannot only rely on vaccination. Given that the number of cases of Omicron is doubling every two to three days, we must quickly and dramatically scale back our social contacts so that there is sufficient time for our vaccine efforts to have an impact. If everyone does what they can it will have a major compounded effect across the community. Book your third dose of the vaccine as soon as possible. Severe consequences such as ICU admissions and deaths always lag a few weeks from when cases arise.

“Not acting before we start to see rapidly escalating hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths means we will be too late. Omicron is much more transmissible than Delta, that we know. In Ontario, it’s  infecting four to eight times more people than Delta did,” noted Wang, stressing the importance of limiting social contacts over the holidays.

“We’ve also seen an increasing number of outbreaks in schools in the last weeks, there may be additional cases among students who are now off for the holidays. If students have symptoms of COVID-19, even if they’re mild, please get them tested and self-isolate. The province has provided all students with rapid antigen screening tests to use during the holidays.”

As of midweek the region had just over 800 active cases, up from 231 at the beginning of the month, and nearly double the number just last week. About 50 per cent of outbreaks in the last seven days were from schools, 46 per cent were workplace settings and three per cent were long-term care homes. At midweek there were seven people in ICU with COVID and 20 people in hospitalization.

The Region has 79.8 per cent of eligible residents over the age of 5 fully vaccinated and 85.2 per cent with one jab. Some 39.1 per cent of children 5 to 11 have had at least one dose since they became eligible. Neigbouring Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph has 86.9 per cent of eligible residents with one dose and 81.7 per cent with two doses. WDG has 39 per cent of children with one dose. As of mid-week WDG had 536 active COVID cases, 299 new cases were confirmed over the weekend.

“I encourage people who cannot book an appointment through the regional clinic booking system to connect with their family doctor or their local community pharmacy. The recent increases in COVID cases in our community highlight the need for everyone to get vaccinated. I also stress the importance of public health measures such as wearing masks, social distancing and limiting gatherings,” said Vickie Murray, director of pharmacy at Grand River and St Mary’s hospital, during the region’s weekly pandemic briefing December 17.

Some 350,000 residents are eligible in the region to get their booster or third dose. The region is currently looking for businesses to host vaccination clinics to ramp up the vaccine efforts in the community to brace for the increase in hospitalizations they predict is coming with Omicron.

“As a region, we’re ramping up vaccination efforts to get doses administered as quickly as possible,” said regional Chair Karen Redman in a release Monday. “But we need help if we are going to get ahead of Omicron – and that’s why we are asking the business community for their assistance.”

Large companies can host vaccination clinics for their employees and their families onsite. Companies such as Toyota and Piller’s Fine Foods took part earlier in the year.

“The best way to keep us all safe is to get doses in arms,” said Frank Voss, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada, in the same release. “And Toyota is proud to help our team members and their families receive their vaccines more quickly by hosting our own onsite clinics.”

The region is looking to get more businesses than previously on board, to help fulfill the large demand they’re seeing with the sharp rise in cases happening across Ontario, as well as the community.

“We want to ramp up as quickly as possible. I think everybody’s on board to do what it takes to make as many vaccination appointments available as possible,” said Murray. “It’s going to take our whole community to pull together to do that and to be able to vaccinate people as quickly as we want because of the response for Omicron.

“If you take a look at the numbers we’re probably going to have to look at doing 20,000 vaccinations a day to meet the demand. Well, the most we’ve ever done is 2,000 a day in July, so it feels like an almost impossible task, but it’s a task we’re committed to doing our best to meet. We might not make that but the commitment across the community and everyone I talk to is there to try our best.”

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