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Region planning for vaccine rollout

Durham Region’s medical officer of health says the region is planning for the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Kyle says he recognizes everyone has been anticipating the rollout of the vaccine and is anxious for more information.

“Durham Region Health Department remains committed to sharing information as soon as it becomes available,” he says, noting decisions regarding how the vaccine is distributed across Ontario is under the direction of the province.

The province has developed a three-phase vaccination plan for Ontarians, which focuses first on health care workers and vulnerable populations who are the greatest risk of getting COVID-19.

Kyle says the health department has not received any vaccine as of yet and is awaiting further information from the province regarding timelines.

Under the plan, Lakeridge Health was one of 17 Ontario hospitals to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to support designated essential caregivers.

In Durham, Kyle says those currently being vaccinated include healthcare workers and essential caregivers who work in hospitals, long-term care homes, retirement homes, and other congregate settings caring for seniors.

“The health department continues to be engaged with our local hospital partners and we are providing support as needed,” says Kyle, adding vaccines will be available to residents of long-term care homes and retirement homes, as well as First Nation communities and urban Indigenous populations, including Metis and Inuit adults, in the coming weeks.

“This winter, it is anticipated that area residents 70 and older will be able to be vaccinated,” Kyle continues. “We are working with our provincial partners to ensure that the health department is prepared to receive, distribute and administer vaccines when they are available to us.”

There are currently two vaccines approved for use in Canada – the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

“Both are mRNA vaccines, which means the vaccines tell the cells in our body to make a protein that is found specifically on the virus that causes COVID-19,” explains Kyle. “These ‘spike proteins’ trigger our body to start making antibodies which will protect us from becoming ill if we are exposed to the virus.”

Kyle says both vaccines require two doses, and, following the second dose, it may take another one or two weeks to achieve maximum protection against COVID-19.

He adds at this time, the Moderna vaccine is approved for use for people who are at least 18 years old and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved for individuals who are least 16 years old, noting the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines in children has not yet been established. However, it is expected vaccines will be available for younger populations in the future.

“Since we don’t have information on long-term protection yet, it will be important for those that have been vaccinated to continue with public health measures such as physical distancing, wearing a mask and staying home when sick,” says Kyle.

There were 137 new COVID-19 cases reported in Durham on Jan. 5, 26 of which were in Oshawa.

In total, there are currently 820 active cases in the region. There are 779 people in home isolation, and 41 people hospitalized with 13 in the ICU. There have also been 244 deaths, 202 of which are from long-term care and retirement homes.