BREAKING: Public Health begins local vaccinations – GuelphToday

Pfizer vaccine now being administered, Public Health expects 3,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to arrive next week.

The Public Health nurse who administered the first local dose of COVID-19 vaccine says it feels like we are finally on the offensive against the virus after months of playing defence.

On Wednesday five workers from the Shelbourne Long-Term Care Home each received the first of two shots of the Pfizer vaccine. The first shot was given at the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health office to Sarah Ricci, program director at the home.

“Today is a celebration for us. We are excited to be here,” said Ricci. 

At about 10 a.m. on Wednesday Ricci rolled up her sleeve as public health nurse Andrea Bothwell administered the first dose of the vaccine.

The Shelbourne Long-Term Care Home was selected to receive the first doses because it was the site of the worst outbreak within the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph health unit and was the site of 20 deaths due to COVID-19.

Ricci said those weeks of the outbreak were difficult, but they made it through as a team. Currently there are no active cases at the home.

Bothwell said the team at Public Health has been celebrating every step, cheering when the vaccine shipment arrived, when the first batch was mixed and now that the first inoculations have been received. She had been training for weeks to learn how to handle, mix and administer the doses.

“It feels like we are finally on the offensive,” said Bothwell. “It feels like for the last few months we have been defending and how do we detect, how do we protect? Now we feel like we can do something.”

Even tough Bothwell was giving out the first shot, she said her own appointment to receive the vaccine has not yet been confirmed.

Dr. Nicola Mercer, local medical officer of Health, called Wednesday a historic day.

“Today represents hope,” said Mercer. “I think it also represents that we have to be patient.”

For the next three weeks or so the priority for WDG Public Health will be to vaccinate all of the residents and staff at long-term care homes and high-risk retirement homes, said Mercer.

“We have seen people die in long-term care and retirement homes — staff and residents — and we want to prevent that,” said Mercer. “Today is just a step forward to try and protect that population.”

On Tuesday a total of 975 Pfizer vaccines were delivered to WDG Public Health. Although only five people were vaccinated on Wednesday, Mercer said about 250 people will receive their first dose Thursday, with slightly more being vaccinated on Friday.

Next week WDG Public Health will ramp up to providing 500 doses per day.

Over the next three weeks, WDG is expecting an additional 1,950 Pfizer vaccines per week but Mercer said the challenge is that the company is only promising the shipment during the five-day window each week, not offering a specific shipping date.

Receiving the doses directly from Pfizer in Belgium is unusual for WDG Public Health. Usually it received vaccines from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s storage depot.

Public Health will not retain and store the second dose for 21 days until each vaccinated person requires their second dose.

“I will absolutely use every dose now. I am confident we will get the second dose,” said Mercer.

WDG Public Health is also expecting a shipment of 3,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine next week.

Because of the need for cold storage, the Pfizer vaccines will remain at the WDG Public Health office on Chancellor’s Way in Guelph, while the Moderna vaccine will be distributed directly to the long-term care homes for upcoming vaccination clinics.

Mercer said everyone who wants a vaccine will eventually get one, but for now it is going to those most vulnerable.

“As we get toward the end of February and March and April you are going to see vaccine being delivered and we are going to try and do it in such a thoughtful way that those who are most at risk get it first,” she said.

WDG Public Health has the capacity in its freezers to store almost 100,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine, with the capacity expected to expand by another 100,000 early next week. 

“That is a significant capacity that we are prepared to receive,” said Mercer. “I highly doubt we will get 100,000 doses in a shipment or more, but there may come a time in the coming months when we could receive a fairly large shipment to be able to distribute it to our community.”

She added: “It’s not my intention to leave those doses in a freezer, I assure you that. We need to get them out.”

Although some vaccine clinics have been criticized for throwing out unused doses of vaccine at the end of the day, Mercer said that is unlikely to happen here.

“There’s no intention to throw out vaccines. I think that would be really unacceptable to me when there are so many people who would want that vaccine,” she said. “We will give every dose.”

For now WDG Public Health staff will administer the vaccines while supply is relatively low, but as more doses become available Mercer said the agency will lean on its partners to assist the rollout.

Mercer noted that she has not received the vaccine herself.

“I am looking forward to it. My time will come when we are in the appropriate sequence when my risk means that I can have the vaccine,” she said.

After vaccination of residents and staff at long-term care and high-risk retirement homes is complete Public Health will begin to vaccinate seniors, people with underlying medical issues and essential workers.

As other vaccines become available Mercer expects pharmacies and primary health care providers will begin to do vaccinations, likely in the spring.

For instance the Oxford–AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, which was recently approved in the United Kingdom, is a more traditional vaccine that does not require the ultra-cold storage and special handling that the Pfizer and Moderna versions do. 

“As we get traditional-type vaccine, as we get more supply, absolutely we will see a much broader community approach,” said Mercer.

Healthy people aged 16-45 with no medical issues could anticipate starting to be invited to be vaccinated about the end of May., said Mercer

“That could be plus or minus a few weeks, that’s how long it may take,” she said