Nearly 300 people vaccinated for COVID-19 in city –

The Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre expects to run out of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine by next week but more shipments are to arrive later in January.

THUNDER BAY – Since the COVID-19 vaccine arrived in the city a little more than a week ago, nearly 300 people have rolled up their sleeves to be immunized, and while the doses are expected to run out soon, more will be on the way.

“We’ve vaccinated almost 300 people. We are doing very well from that perspective,” said Rhonda Crocker Ellacott, president and CEO of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.

“The vaccinations are going into the arms of health care workers that are direct care staff in long-term care facilities as well as vaccinators that will be travelling to northern remote communities for a vaccination strategy to start in late January or early February.”

Earlier this month, the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre was named one of 17 additional hospital sites in the province to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

On Dec. 22, St. Joseph’s Care Group long-term care worker, Sean Bolton, became the first person in the city to receive the vaccine.

Due to security issues, the TBRHSC is not able to disclose how many vaccines it has on hand or how many it has received but Crocker Ellacott said the doses from the first shipment are running out.

“We will unfortunately run out of vaccines come mid-to-late next week so we are looking forward to more vaccines coming in,” she said. “We are expecting at least another couple of shipments in mid-to-late January.”

With the more shipments expected, Crocker Ellacott said the hospital doesn’t have to hold a significant number of second doses required for a second shot after 28 days, which will allow more people to be vaccinated. 

“Depending on how many we have in house and on hand, we are looking at being able to vaccinate 120 people a day when we are at our max capacity,” she said. “We may be able to try and push that up to 140 a day.”

This may require expanding or relocating the current vaccination site at the hospital to another location, still on hospital grounds, as the Pfizer vaccine requires special freezers to store it at extremely low temperatures.

The province’s COVID-19 vaccine task force has determined long-term care workers as one of the priority groups for receiving the vaccine during the first phase of its rollout. Crocker Ellacott said she hopes as many workers as possible will receive the vaccine.

“We are limited to doing 15 per cent of long-term care staff each and every day,” she said. “There’s a possibility we will get a good uptake in long term care but I’m not sure if all individuals will opt for vaccines but we are very hopeful that they will.”

“We will be working now with homes in outbreak to determine what we can do on a small scale basis.  Initially we indicated we wouldn’t be vaccinating homes in outbreak that is the direction of the province. We are looking at what we can do to help support homes in outbreak to ensure they are able to slowly move out of outbreak and into recovery.”  

And with vaccinations now taking place at the hospital, the COVID-19 assessment centre at Confederation College is now handling all testing.

According to Julia Bailey, assessment centre coordinator, demand for testing has increased in the last several months.

“Compared to when the pandemic first began, our capacity for testing has definitely increased,” she said.

“Over the last month we are seeing a fairly consistent demand for testing and we are able to meet that demand no problem. We have seen a little bit of an increase for testing for visitors to long-term care because they need a weekly test.”

Bailey added the assessment centre performs between 200 and 250 tests per day and works along side community partners, which provides even more testing in the community.

The assessment centre has expanded its hours and is now operating seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“We adjusted our operations and we are seven-days a week, 12-hours a day, so we are more than able of meeting the demand of the community,” Bailey said.

Under the provincial guidelines, only those with symptoms of COVID-19 or who have been in close contact with a confirmed positive case can be tested. Testing is available same day but an appointment must be booked online or by phone. Results are usually returned in two to four days.