WELLINGTON COUNTY – While local COVID-19 vaccination rates may lag behind the provincial average for now, the region is on target for a first-dose vaccination rate of 70 per cent of the eligible population by the end of June, with about 20% fully-vaccinated by the same date, says Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer.
Mercer gave an update on vaccination rates and the ongoing effort to end the COVID-19 pandemic in the Wellington-Dufferin Guelph Public Health (WDGPH) region at the May 27 Wellington County council meeting.
“By the end of May 28, tomorrow, we will be at 60%, and then looking ahead to June, again projected based on everything being perfect, we’ll be at 70% by June 28, with that two dose number at 20%,” she told council.
“One of the things I thought would be important to share with the council is that as the province talks about how many people are vaccinated, and we can see locally we’ll be about 60%, I think you’ll probably hear on local newscasts that 65% of the province is fully vaccinated by the end of May.
“That’s true, but that is also true because the province of Ontario is not equally vaccinated.”
Mercer explained some parts of the province are very highly vaccinated and other parts much less so.
“The Greater Toronto Area had high rates of disease … so for the first two weeks of May, 50% of all of the vaccine in Ontario was given to Toronto, York and Peel, and since then they still received their per capita dose allocation,” she said.
“So what this has resulted in is a little bit of variation across the province of vaccination rates.”
Mercer said that while WDGPH puts every dose received into arms “every single week,” areas that received more vaccines will be ahead in the count.
“If you look at the vaccination rates with people between the ages of 18 and 29 in Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, we are at 26%. We just haven’t been given the vaccines yet,” she noted.
“If you look at Peel they are at 60%. So there is a really significant difference.”
Noting the province’s re-opening plans are based on vaccination levels, Mercer said, “It’s not clear to me whether the province is going to correct that or we’re just going to continue on and the parts of the province that got more vaccine will continue to lead, or whether there’s going to be redistribution.
“I think many of us were hoping that those of us who didn’t get the vaccine would get it now. I’m not sure that that is the case. So that is something that I’m just continuing to advocate for our area.
“Even if we received an extra ten to twelve thousand doses of vaccines, we would still likely to be below the provincial average.”
Mercer told council it’s unfortunate the region has not yet achieved a high rate of vaccination in the younger adult population.
“Unfortunately, these are also our essential workers and people who work in retail, or in our food services industry, a lot of them (work in) our construction or laboring jobs or factory jobs,” Mercer stated.
“Hopefully we’ll get more vaccine and we’ll start to be able to provide for those (age groups) in our population.”
Mercer told council that figures from mid-December to the present show the vaccinations that have been given in Ontario have proven highly effective.
“If you’ve had one dose of the vaccine we know that 99.8 of people do not report any COVID disease,” she said.
“And then if we look at that .2% who are developing disease, most of people do get a vaccine and go on to get COVID do so less than two weeks after they receive their dose, which means they actually weren’t protected.
“So the vaccine didn’t fail, it just didn’t get a chance to get to work.”
Mercer estimated the gap between the number of people who are vaccinated or scheduled for vaccination and the WDGPH goal of first-dose vaccination for 75% of local residents is about 12,000 people across the region and four or five thousand in Wellington County.
“That’s the number that we need to register to make an appointment or to come physically to get their vaccines,” she stated.
“Thanks for laying things out so clearly,” said Warden Kelly Linton. “As local leaders, we’re all on the hunt in trying to encourage people to get those vaccinations.”
Councillor Mary Lloyd said, “It’s exciting to see us moving forward and I’ll do my best to push out the word.”
Councillor Gregg Davidson asked Mercer to address vaccination participation among the local Mennonite community.
“The Low German speaking community by and large has historically … been more vaccine hesitant. This is not unique to COVID, it’s more broadly reflective of cultural beliefs,” said Mercer.
She explained public health is working with local midwives and primary care practitioners in communities with “large numbers of Low German speaking populations” in order to promote vaccination.
“The leaders of the Mennonite community specifically have asked that they not be centred out with ‘Mennonite pop-up clinics,’ but that we try to normalize the procedure and put it through primary care auspices and I think that’s great,” Mercer stated.
Councillor Andy Lennox said, “I’d just like to say thank you again, Dr. Mercer.
“My message has been, and will continue to be, that while the light is on at the end of the tunnel and we can begin to see it, if we want to see the end of the tunnel we’ve got to keep pushing ahead with the vaccine.”
“It’s great that we are getting close to the to the numbers that we need,” said councillor Doug Breen.
“Obviously we’ll keep promoting in any way that we can and thanks to all the staff for their work. The faster we can get enough needles in arms, the faster we can get back to normal lives.”
Councillor Diane Ballantyne asked Mercer to comment on the possibility of reopening schools before the end of the current term.
“As a medical officer of health I can’t reopen school unilaterally,” said Mercer, noting that schools are currently closed under provincial legislation.
“I get a lot of emails asking me to open the schools and I don’t have that power.”
The main challenge to reopening, said Mercer, is that “we don’t have, all across the province, enough people vaccinated yet.”
Mercer said the presence of more infectious variants circulating in the province further complicates the decision.
“And at the same time we don’t actually have vaccination of youth 12 to 17, we don’t have a vaccine for children under the age of 12 as yet, so it’s not a simple answer and I know that this is really the job of the government, the premier and Cabinet to make this decision and I don’t envy them.”
Linton told Mercer, “We really appreciate your leadership at a very difficult time for our county and for everywhere else as well.
“As mayors and county councillors, we really appreciate that we have you in the position that you’re in right now …
“On behalf of the county, on behalf of our communities, thank you and your team for all the work that you’re doing.”