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When will Tillsonburg get a COVID-19 vaccination clinic?

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The day will come when Southwestern Public Health opens a mobile or pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Tillsonburg.

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That day is not today.

“I do not have a date to that at this time,” said Mary Van Den Neucker, Program Manager, Southwestern Public Health last Thursday at the Mass Immunization Clinic in Woodstock.

“It’s on the radar,” said Cynthia St. John, CEO, Southwestern Public Health.

“We have to wait until we get a stable vaccine that we can actually move and utilize in that area,” said Van Den Neucker.

Six other health units in southwestern Ontario have introduced – or will be opening this week – fixed or mobile clinics in communities smaller, and in some cases much smaller than Tillsonburg (pop. 17,000). For now, Southwestern Public Health is asking Tillsonburg’s 80-and-older eligible residents to travel 30 minutes to the Woodstock clinic or 40 minutes to St. Thomas.

Middlesex-London has a clinic in Mt. Brydges.

Huron Perth, which initially opened clinics in Stratford and Goderich, planned to open clinics in Listowel and Seaforth starting March 15.

Lambton has clinics in Sarnia, Wyoming and Forest.

Waterloo, which opened clinics in Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge, opened a clinic in Wellesley this week.

Brant has a clinic in Paris, which means nine smaller communities in southwestern Ontario have vaccination clinics as of this week, including Haldimand-Norfolk’s clinic in Vittoria, which will be moving to the Delhi arena in April to give them more space (ramping up from 250/day to 1,000/day).

The Vittoria clinic, located in a community of about 600, utilized staff from the Delhi Family Health Team, Haldimand-Norfolk Health Department, staff from Norfolk County for screening, paramedics, volunteer firefighters, and doctors.

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Delhi Family Health Team’s Primary Care Team was involved in the initial organization, staffing and booking of appointments, and obtaining consents for the Vittoria clinic with Public Health. On any given day, there would be 5-6 (registered nurses, medical office assistants) from the Delhi Family Health Team, 2-4 from Public Health, 2 volunteer firefighters, and 2 community paramedics.

It has been extremely successful, smooth and safe, said Robin Mackie, Executive Director, Delhi Family Health Team. As of last week, they were able to vaccinate 250 above-80 seniors at the Vittoria location.

“Family doctors know their 80-plus population and this made a huge difference in the clinics and why primary care was so involved in making these safe and efficient clinic days from the bookings through to vaccine administration,” said Mackie in an email. “Primary care has a good foundational relationship with the community paramedicine program and PH as we work together in many aspects of primary care.  It was a very naturally occurring relationship.

“Our primary care team will still continue to offer assistance to PH and our community partners  at the new Delhi clinic but we will no longer be leading them.

“It certainly makes a significant difference when community partners work together as “ many hand make light work.”

The Southwestern Public Health unit says it is using its own staff, as well as an outside agency for security.

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Chatham-Kent, which vaccinated more than 12,500 people as of Friday, has one fixed clinic in Chatham and mobile clinics for its rural population.

“While I can’t comment on what happened in another public health unit area – I wasn’t part of those decisions – what I can say is that, as Mary indicated, the initial locations are so dependent on access to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and literally even to today (Thursday, March 11), we have to decant that vaccine from downtown London,” said St. John. “We have a Pfizer-BioNTech freezer coming – actually it has arrived but the vaccine for it hasn’t arrived yet. That doesn’t start to flow, I think, until next week.”

This past weekend, Southwestern Public Health reported it had received its first direct shipment which is now safely stored in their own brand new super-low-temperature fridge.

“So really the locations, at least initially, are so dependent on vaccine supply – how much and what vaccine – and then you go from there,” said St. John.

“So in terms of the two locations, it was determined that Woodstock and St. Thomas would be the first two of many sites – and many modalities – that we will be delivering with vaccine.

“The issue is it’s just the tightest and most restrictive right now because of the actual vaccine that we’re working with, and the fact that we have to (as of last week) decant it from London. There wasn’t even a guarantee that we were going to have a Pfizer freezer with vaccine available in it until, I think, about a week-and-a-half ago.

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“So I think for us it was ‘let’s get two up because we can get two up and going,’ and then we’ll go from there.”

St. John said there are planners in Southwestern Public Health who are constantly evaluating “how do we get as much vaccine into arms in multiple modalities in multiple communities.”

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If Tillsonburg residents take the excellent Monday-Friday T:GO intercommunity bus service to Woodstock for vaccinations, there is currently no space at the clinic for them to wait two-plus hours for the return bus home, which in turn could limit their transportation options.

“I know that we have recommended to people that we are very tight here (at Goff Hall) as far as we do not really have a space here to accommodate individuals who are here for a long period of time,” said Van Den Neucker, earlier noting there was limited space at Goff Hall to later expand the clinic, saying they will explore different options as newer vaccines become available.

Southwestern Public Health currently has access to one vaccine, Pfizer-BioNTech, she said, and other vaccines, like Moderna, will come on board in time.

“As we’re getting the newer vaccines, we’re hoping to do some pop-up clinics, or if we’re extending the clinics it could be tent or drive-through, or… there’s some other options available to us that we are looking at so that we can reach some of the farther corners of the counties. And so that’s good news for all of us, we’re just waiting for that to arise. But that is on the radar for sure.

“We recognize that a lot of people do not live in the centre, but right now this is where we have to be, based on the recommendations and the stringent rules we have to use with Pfizer. But moving forward we certainly can – with the different vaccines – do a reachout to the other areas.”

cabbott@postmedia.com

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