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COVID-19 variants are still a concern for Oxford-Elgin medical officer of health

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With up to 800 vaccine doses per day as of last week, the Southwestern Public Health region of Oxford and Elgin counties is slowly being immunized.

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But the health unit is urging all residents to continue following COVID-19 safety measures, for at least the next few months.

“What we all do now affects not only ourselves, but the whole community. It’s in each of our hands to prevent another lockdown,” said medical officer of Health Dr. Joyce Lock.

“The summer is coming, the days are getting warmer, and we all hope to have a more open society where we can engage in those activities we enjoy. We can only do that if we keep our case numbers down.”

Approximately 25 per cent of all active COVID-19 cases reported in the Oxford-Elgin region last week were ‘variants.’ Provincially, more than 50 per cent of cases last week screened positive as ‘Variants of Concern,’ up from 30 per cent one week earlier.

“This shows just how quickly these variants are spreading and becoming the dominant variant.”

In the Southwestern Public Health region, Lock said social events have been a significant source of spread.

“We’ve come out of winter hibernation into the ‘orange zone’ of the provincial framework and this has resulted in many types of social gatherings happening, and these social gatherings have resulted in our increase in cases.”

As of last week, up to 800 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were administered per day at the mass immunization clinics in St. Thomas and Woodstock.

“The feedback from those who have attended the clinics has been very positive,” said Lock. “Booking is a challenge and we understand that, and this is because of the high demand for vaccine. We are very happy that people are seeking out the vaccine and we look forward to making this process of booking as smooth for everyone as possible. We continue to work with our partners to improve the online and phone booking experience.”

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Mobile clinics are also underway at congregate living settings.

“We team up with our EMS partners to deliver doses to these settings. We anticipate that this will take two weeks and then the mobile teams will start to reach out next to homebound seniors in our (Oxford-Elgin) community.

“So if you are a homebound senior, do know that we’re going to get to you some time in April. There will be vaccine for everyone who wants it, but it will take time and patience from all of us.”

At the moment, Lock says it is a ‘supply and demand’ issue and the local demand exceeds the local supply (which is provided by the province).

“There has been a lot of information in the news recently about people travelling outside their health unit region to be immunized. I do encourage residents to get vaccine in our local (Oxford-Elgin) community or through our workplaces when they become available. However, since Ontarians may receive healthcare anywhere in the province, including vaccines, you are free to travel to get vaccine.”

The medical officer of health stressed that individuals should get any vaccine brand offered to them, unless specifically advised against a particular vaccine manufacturer by their healthcare provider.

“Ultimately, all the vaccines offer the same important features,” she said, noting they included a less severe infection – or preventing infection – which decreases illness, hospitalization and death.”

PHARMACIES

Shoppers Drug Mart is currently accepting registration on its website. When eligible, and when vaccine is available, registrants will be contacted to book COVID-19 vaccination appointments.

“We have been informed that in the coming weeks at least three pharmacies will be opened to provide the AstraZeneca vaccine in each health unit across the province,” said Dr. Lock. “So we are hoping that we will have three, and then perhaps a little later another three at minimum. That’s what we have heard so far.”

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