covid 19 2

Hub Staff

Canada’s National Day of Observance to honour those we lost and the impact of COVID-19 casts a somber shadow over the ever brightening light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel. These conflicting sentiments of hope and mourning were echoed in a live streamed vaccination update, hosted by Bruce Power and led by Dr Ian Arra, Medical Officer of Health and Chief Executive Officer of the Grey Bruce Health Unit. The event took place Wednesday, March 10 at the P&H Centre in Hanover, one of three designated ‘Hockey Hubs’ in Grey Bruce.

Dignitaries and representatives, including Bruce Power President and CEO Mike Rencheck, Bruce Power Vice President of Site Services Jennifer Edey and Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MPP Bill Walker, expressed messages of optimism and gratitude to the community, frontline workers and everyone fighting to put this pandemic in the past. Scongack and Arra were quick to remind listeners that while approaching a mask-free, non-distanced future, we are still currently at risk of transmission and must continue to uphold stringent preventative measures.

Without dwelling too long on the solemn notes, Scongack shifted perspective to the robust vaccine rollout plan the Grey Bruce Public Health Unit and the Grey Bruce Vaccination Task Force has implemented as well as their preparedness for a massive public vaccination as soon as supplies are ready. The three previously mentioned hockey hubs have the capacity to vaccinate 4,000 residents daily with minimal staffing requirements.

The live vaccination update came on the high heels of International Women’s Day, and Arra did not miss the opportunity to commend the hardworking women on the front lines and throughout the healthcare sector.

“The majority of our staff are women, capable women, and that is generalizable to the healthcare system," said Arra. “That in summary tells us that the response to COVID in Grey Bruce, and in the province, has been led by women,” he said.

Arra began by looking back at the region’s success in controlling the situation through each of the phases of COVID-19 including the first wave, the reopening of schools, the second wave and finally the vaccine rollout. He accredited the success to the cooperation of the five pillars in Grey Bruce, namely community, political leaders, media, community partners and healthcare workers. “Throughout all this, the five pillars I think of, the majority of the heavy lifting is the public. The community in Grey Bruce has been committed, concerned, informed, but not afraid,” commended Arra.

Arra reported that Phase 1 of the Vaccination Rollout plan is almost completed in Grey Bruce. This phase included long-term care homes, retirement homes, healthcare workers, Indigenous populations, chronic home-care recipients and those 80 years or older.

“We are proceeding with the plan and we are consistent with the direction from the province,” said Arra. “At this point the only bottleneck is the supply of vaccine, which will be increased nationally and internationally,” he said. Arra ensured listeners that Grey Bruce is primed to rollout vaccinations as larger quantities become available.

“In the imminent future I can see the challenge to put vaccines in arms fast enough to keep up with the flow of the vaccine, and we are ready for that period,” promised Arra.

Arra touched on the hesitancy toward the new mRNA vaccine and confirmed that the clinical trials and safety measures are the same for the approval of any vaccine. The mRNA vaccine provides cells with instructions for producing a protein that in turn will trigger an immune response, signalling the body to produce the antibodies required to fight the infection. The NACI (National Advisory Committee on Immunization) and the FDA (Food and Drugs Act) “go through all the exercises that the safety requires so I have no doubt in my mind it’s a safe product and I would advise anyone who wants a vaccine to utilize it once it’s available,” reassured Arra.

Scongack summarized some common questions that were submitted from listeners. First he requested that Dr Arra provide feedback on the over 12,000 vaccinations given in Grey Bruce thus far. “Universally it is a positive experience, extremely positive,” responded Arra and confirmed that recipients of the vaccine, volunteers and healthcare workers have all spoken very highly of the experience. He also noted that of the 12,000 shots administered there have been no significant reactions.

“It is definitely a relief for many people, especially older adults or people with disease. It is a passport to be free again,” he described. “This vaccine really is a passport to going back to normality."

Arra touched on the readiness versus the hesitancy toward the vaccine in Grey Bruce and referred to a poll taken in December, only weeks after the first vaccine was licensed, that revealed 75 percent of participants were wanting to get the vaccine as soon as it was available. This is above the provincial average for acceptance of the vaccine and Arra believes this number will only increase.

Scongack described what he called ‘vaccine shopping’, people comparing and choosing the vaccine they think is superior. Arra detailed the difference between efficacy and effectiveness data, the former resulting from clinical trials and the latter from real life applications. He advised listeners that partial protection is still helpful. “Even if it was 65 percent versus the 95 percent, it is partial efficacy today. That’s going to protect lives today and I would take it, and if I was an older person I would fight to get it,” said Arra. “I would never say no to it. I would never recommend to a person to wait for a better vaccine."

Arra stressed the importance of making an informed decision and urged listeners to review the information and evidence from Health Canada, Public Health Ontario, and CDC Atlanta (Centre of Disease Control).

In terms of distribution, Arra assured that every one of the 17 municipalities in Grey Bruce has a mass immunization centre plan, not just the three hockey hubs. Each municipality will have a mini hub available, and the larger hockey hubs are not only servicing their local communities, but will be accessible for the entire catchment area.

March 15th saw the launch of provincial booking software and primary healthcare providers are contacting remaining groups from Phase 1 of the rollout.

With attention shifting to the mental health impacts of the pandemic, Arra said, “There is disease and death from COVID and there is disease and death from the measures against COVID and balancing the two is an art and science."

He continued. “Our goal is to open it as far as we can, so far as it’s safe,” said Arra, encouraging anyone who feels negative impacts on their mental health to seek help. “There are agencies that support, there are neighbours, friends. Reaching out for help is very suitable anytime, specifically during these trying times."

Arra urged everyone to be cognitive of those suffering and check in on friends, family and neighbours. “If you look at 2020, we lost zero to COVID, we lost over 14 from opioid [overdose],” revealed Arra.

Arra said that what we saw in 2020 was the birth of a new common cold, that a year or two down the road, most of the population will have immunity from either the vaccine or the infection. "We are literally steps away from that end of the pandemic. I am very excited. You can bet the farm on that,” committed Arra.

His final message returned listeners to the three Ws: Washing hands, Wearing a mask and Watching your distance. “Just do those three things and we will be through, we definitely will be through,” said Arra.