The first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit are expected to arrive next week.
The first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit are expected to arrive next week.

Region’s first COVID-19 vaccines to arrive next week

Stephen Jeffery
EAP
Long-term care staff will be the first people in the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) region to receive the COVID-19 vaccine when it arrives next week.

About 1200 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be delivered to the region next week, EOHU Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis said in his first media conference of the year on Tuesday. The first batch will be provided to staff working with vulnerable populations in long-term care homes, while subsequent deliveries would be dedicated to health workers.

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The first shipment will be a thawed variant delivered direct from Ottawa, which can be used for up to five days. Future doses of the vaccine, which needed to be stored at minus 70 degrees to remain viable, would be stored in a specialized fridge at the Hawkesbury General Hospital.

Dr. Roumeliotis said he did not yet know the precise date on which the vaccines would arrive, but said they would be distributed to long term care staff based on a “risk based analysis” of need. He hoped, with the expected arrival of the Moderna vaccine in the region soon, that the first phase vaccination of the long term care, health care and retirement home workers could be completed by the end of January.

Frontline workers, seniors, and people with pre-existing conditions were expected to be next in line for the vaccine. The health unit planned to establish five vaccination sites before a mass rollout to the general population later this year. Those site locations were expected to be announced in the coming days.

Dr. Roumeliotis said the news was positive, but warned that any sense of pre-COVID normalcy could not be expected until at least May. “I don't think we're going to go from having 50 people gatherings to 10,000 people gatherings, it's going to be slow and progressive, but at least there's going to be a semblance of normalcy,” he said. “The vaccine is marking the beginning of the end, but we're not at the end yet.”

There were 489 active cases in the EOHU area on Tuesday, due in part to a surge in new reports since the start of the new year. That number could be cut by as many as 50, however, as Dr. Roumeliotis said there may have been some overlap in the cases reported on Monday.

The true spread of the virus over the holidays, and the effect of the lockdown that began on December 26, would not be known for another seven to 10 days as more data arrived, Dr. Roumeliotis said. December was a record high month for new cases in the EOHU, with at least 666 recorded. The next highest month, October, had 341 new cases.

The lockdown is due to end on Saturday, January 23. Dr. Roumeliotis said its extension or easing would depend on the rate of spread and active case numbers in the coming weeks.

In Prescott-Russell, 213 active cases were reported on Tuesday. Eighty-two of those cases were in Clarence-Rockland, while 40 were reported in Russell and 31 were in Alfred and Plantagenet. Seventeen cases were recorded in Hawkesbury, The Nation and Champlain had 16 cases each, and Casselman had 11. East Hawkesbury reported no active cases.

Outbreaks were declared at the Prescott and Russell Residence in Hawkesbury and the Russell Meadows Retirement Home in Russell, however, infections were limited to staff members. Testing continued at the two homes. On Sunday, a staff member at Asselin Your Independent Grocer in Hawkesbury was confirmed to have tested positive to COVID-19. They last worked at the store on December 27.