The North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit is trailing the majority of the 33 other districts in Ontario when it comes to vaccination rates but officials are confident the mobile vaccination clinics held on a retrofitted transit bus can boost those numbers toward the 90 per cent goal.
According to COVaxON, the province's vaccination reporting system, 78 per cent of eligible North Bay–Parry Sound residents age 12 and older have had two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. That's tied for 23rd out of 34 health units in Ontario.
The Health Unit also reports 84 per cent of eligible residents 12 and older in the district have received at least one dose, tied for 25th of 34 health units.
The recent introduction of the proof of vaccination program for Ontarians to gain entry to non-essential settings such as restaurants, fitness clubs, and cinemas is acknowledged by health officials as a means to encourage those who are not fully vaccinated to do so.
There was an uptick in vaccinations reported in the weeks following the announcement of the vaccine certificate program in Ontario. And, a boost in vaccinations followed locally, as well, as the Health Unit reported an increase, particularly among those aged 29 and younger.
The Health Unit reports seeing an increase in COVID-19 vaccine administration since the province announced the vaccination certificate program, September 1. "In fact, we have seen a 20 per cent increase in vaccination uptake for first doses between September 1 (when the province announced the vaccine certificate program) and September 22, compared to the 22-day period prior to the announcement. At this time, it is too soon to determine behavioural trends starting September 22."
The goal locally and province-wide is to have 90 per cent of the population vaccinated with first and second doses. As of Monday, that leaves 6,646 first and 14,680 second shots required. The Health Unit's dashboard reports 692 doses administered over the weekend. It should be noted hundreds of third doses have been administered to eligible segments of the population over the past two weeks.
In North Bay–Parry Sound, the 30-39, 18-29 and 12-17 age groups all sit at less than two-thirds fully vaccinated, although the 12-17 category was not eligible for the vaccine for months following the initial local roll-out.
The Health Unit reports since June 1, 10 per cent of local positive cases have been detected in fully vaccinated people. Ontario reports 86 per cent of COVID-19 patients in ICUs are unvaccinated, while 72 per cent in hospitals (but not the ICU) are unvaccinated.
The Health Unit has consistently advocated for more people to roll up their sleeves and has gone to great lengths to achieve that goal by providing clinics in long-term care and retirement communities, mass immunization opportunities at Memorial Gardens, clinics focused on members of the vulnerable population, and now the mobile vaccination clinics that visit many of the underserved towns in the district.
Andrea McLellan, Director of COVID-19 Immunization Strategy, previously spoke about possible reasons for vaccine hesitancy.
"It may be a lack of confidence in immunizations overall, it may be a personal choice they are making at this time and waiting to receive further information," she said, noting there are excellent resources out there for those who are hesitant. "We are providing as much information to the public as we can — our website holds a wealth of information, the Ontario.ca website has a lot of information about the vaccine, as does Public Health Ontario."
"Some people need a familiar health care provider to really reassure them that the vaccine is right for them," Dr. Carol Zimbalatti added, encouraging people to reach out to their trusted health care providers for guidance. "Definitely, primary care offices have the information available to counsel their patients."
The Health Unit will continue to roll out the vaccine through mobile clinics. McLellan says some of the feedback from the public indicated people who weren't thinking of getting their shot did so thanks to the convenience of the bus set-up.
"We believe the mobile bus has been exceptionally successful," McLellan said last week. "We've done over 300 at a couple of clinics, 150-plus at other clinics, 50 to 60 in smaller communities. The bus has been helpful in getting our numbers up. A lot of people are getting their first doses. And, we've accommodated a lot of people eligible for their third doses."