KAWARTHA LAKES – The Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge Health Unit unveiled details and plans for a vaccine roll out that will occur through three phases at a recent Board of Health Meeting.
According to Marianne Rock, Mass immunization operations Lead for HKPR, phase one for the vaccine rollout began in December which began as a planning phase for getting the infrastructure developed to rollout the vaccine in the various phases.
“Over the last few weeks we very quickly moved into more of an operations mode, from planning the work to actually doing the work,” said Rock.
Recently the province released a pictorial map to the public regarding prioritizing the covid-19 vaccine roll out. According to Rock, the map provides a good overview, to what the province is thinking about in terms of prioritizing the vaccine.
“Right now we are working with limited vaccine supply and of course the federal government has procured a number of different vaccines throughout a response and so right now there is a bit of juggling as it relates to some of these delays in Canada and the province receiving the vaccines,” she explained. “We are really focusing on phase 1 as making sure we get the most vulnerable, who would have high mortality rates in those long term care facilities and retirement homes.”
The health department is focusing on getting those individuals vaccinated while also focusing on those on reserve, indigenous communities.
“Those are one of the most vulnerable, suffering from significant health effects of Covid and that’s really where the focus is now,” she said.
According to Rock, phase one, which the province expects will go until the end of March, will make populations such as seniors living in congregate settings, retirement homes, long term care facilities, health care workers who are caring for the most sick, the emergency departments, ICU staff and those who are working in Covid units, priority.
She also noted that there are currently a number of areas in the province that are having to move patients out of their own hospitals to other hospitals so they’re coming to hospitals in the HKPR jurisdiction.
“We need to make sure our health care workers that are caring for those people are protected as well as indigenous individuals living on reserves as well as home care recipients,” said Rock. “We have a lot of seniors living independently on their own but receiving assistance from various agencies and we want to make sure those people are at the top of the priority list as well.”
To date, health officials are dealing with a couple of vaccines with a limited supply. These vaccines come with very stringent cold chain management requirements, which has lead to a lot of the rational for the way that those products and vaccines have been distributed, Rock explained.
“If you have a hospital receiving that vaccine into ultra cold storage and then from there, people have to come to the hospital to get the vaccine because of the cold requirements,” she said. “ Now we have received approval to move those vaccines from storage to another site which has really helped in getting those most vulnerable protected.”
The province has been very deliberate in being sure that those areas that have been most effected is where the vaccine has been going.
“There has been a lot of advocacy on the public health side to ensure those public health units like ourselves who have been doing a really good job at keeping our case counts down, get the vaccine as well,” said Rock.
Phase 1 has also greatly focused on external partner engagement. Team members at HKPR have met with hospitals, long-term care facilities, retirement homes, paramedics and primary care practitioners.
“A lot of the work has been a collaborative effort, now we are looking at how we can utilize or how can we work with our paramedics and our primary care practitioners to support immunizations for residents at long term care facilities, as an example,” said Rock. “So as we have been touching base with all of these people, we are trying to bring them all to one table.”
Rock is hopeful that these professional’s expertise and support can be utilized to ensure the vaccine is getting into arms as fast as possible.
Corporate Services division also continues to work on recruitment to not only support on boarding staff to Covid case and contact outbreak management but also to support mass immunization roll out, said Rock.
As phase one continues, health officials will continue to connect with community home care agencies and the Ontario Health team on how vaccines will be distributed to their clients. According to Rock, the team also wants to reach out to pharmacists as they can now participate in giving the vaccine without a medical directive.
“So what does that look like, can we utilize pharmacies and pharmacists in long term care or retirement homes,” she said. “The key piece is around prioritization of recipients of the vaccine, what does it look like, how do we prioritize one long term care facility from another, it is really being worked on now and will continue to be part of our roll out as we move to phase two.”
The province is anticipating that phase two will begin in July, focusing on essential workers, urban indigenous communities and those with chronic medical conditions and their caregivers. HKPR is also hopeful that fridge stable vaccines will be available by this point.
“We are looking at getting those into the vaccines available for administration, which would significantly help to move into mass immunization clinics,” said Rock. “ Phase two is when the health unit will be involved in health unit lead clinics as well as we are hoping that by then, primary care practitioners will be able to receive the more fridge stable vaccines and be involved in running their own mass immunization clinics as well as pharmacists.”
Rock noted that the team is hopeful in getting those fridge-stable vaccines while utilizing the weather, which will provide opportunity for drive through and mass community clinics.
Officials also plan to focus on municipalities, pharmacies and post secondary schools, such as Fleming, to utilize their facility or their site for drive through or mass immunization clinics.
Who is to receive it, where is it going to be done and getting a proper schedule developed for these clinics while communicating this to the public will also be part of phase two.
The team at HKPR will also dive into the possibilities of indoor, mobile and drive through clinics.
“We want to reach those who have barriers to access to immunizations,” said Rock. “Some people that visit clinics that are not Covid patients have limited access to transportation, so how can we support that and that everyone who wants it in HKPR has the opportunity to get it.”
Phase three is not expect to commence until sometime between August and December and beyond said Rock. This phase will focus on any people remaining that are eligible to receive the vaccine. By then, Rock is optimistic that they will have information about vaccines that will be able to be given to those less than 18 and less than 16. Officials will also delve into the possibilities of vaccines for school pupils and what that will entail.
During this final phase the team will continue to build on the partnerships and infrastructure that was developed in phase one and two while resuming the roll out of vaccines.
HKPR will also continue mass immunization clinics in phase three and they will optimistically seek strategies that have been developed with external partners to ensure the vaccine is put into arms.
“We will continue with ongoing support in terms of responding to Covid cases, contacts and outbreaks, ongoing work on Covid vaccine distribution administration and we don’t want to forget external partner engagement,” said Rock.