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Aug. 1, 2021 | Sunday
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All NOTLers 80+ will be able to get vaccine, mayor says
Lord Mayor Betty Disero is confident NOTL’s 80 plus population that wants a vaccine will receive one. (Richard Harley)

 

NOTL's three planned COVID-19 vaccine clinics should ensure that everyone in town over 80 who wants a shot gets one, Lord Mayor Betty Disero says.

There are about 1,300 residents over 80 in town and the clinics at the community centre are expected to handle 400 people daily, meaning all those wanting the vaccine should get it.

Niagara-on-the-Lake's first COVID-19 vaccine clinic for people 80 and up will be March 31, about two weeks after the region's first clinic in Niagara Falls and one week after the first in Welland.

The public health clinic will be held inside the NOTL Community Centre auditorium and public health officials say more than 400 people are expected to be vaccinated between 9 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Two more NOTL clinics will take place April 1 and 9. However, residents who want the vaccine sooner can book their shots at any clinic in the region – or the province. 

To get the vaccine in Niagara or elsewhere, anyone turning 80 or older in 2021 — or an individual making appointments on their behalf — can book online at Ontario.ca/bookvaccine or by calling the province's vaccine information line number at 1-888-999-6488.

The schedule and number of clinics matches the vaccine supply the region is receiving, Niagara medical officer of health Dr. Mustafa Hirji told a media conference Monday.

Meanwhile, as of Wednesday, COVID-19 cases in Niagara-on-the-Lake had fallen to eight from nine patients a week ago. The region had 305 people with COVID and had identified a total of 119 variant cases so far.

Niagara Region public health spokesperson Courtney Westerhof said Niagara's clinic schedule was "based on a number of factors, including availability of locations, space sizes, the finalization of contracts and staffing."

"Not every municipality can be first and so we tried to rotate through different parts of Niagara with our schedule," she said, adding that the region is working "as quickly as possible to get the vaccines we receive into as many people’s arms as possible."

"We appreciate the eagerness so many people have to get the vaccine. Residents are welcome to book an appointment at a clinic anywhere in Niagara, not just those in their municipality."

People looking to book a vaccine can do so anywhere in the province and are not limited to their own municipality, or even region, Hirji said.

While Niagara-on-the-Lake has a high proportion of seniors, its actual 80-plus population is much less than St. Catharines, Welland or Niagara Falls, he said.

The number of NOTL clinics is "based on how large the 80-plus population is in absolute numbers in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and three clinics was the appropriate number to hold there," Hirji said.

The other detail, he said, is different clinics sites have different capacities.

"A larger space allows us to vaccinate more people and so somewhere like Niagara-on-the-Lake actually has a larger space than Lincoln does, or than Wainfleeet does. So three clinics there actually is proportionally much more than some of those other communities would have."

Hirji said based on census data from 2019, there are about 28,000 people over the age of 80 in Niagara, about 20,000 of whom are not in long-term care homes and will be new to receiving the vaccine.

The region's first clinic in Niagara Falls was fully booked by noon Monday, Hirji said, and a total of 3,600 people had already signed up.

Through Niagara Health, which has been booking people into clinics and administering vaccines to hospital patients who are well enough to receive one, another 4,000 people in the 80-plus age bracket were scheduled to get their vaccines, meaning about 58 per cent of NOTL's senior population had either received a vaccine or been booked for one as of Monday afternoon.

In all, there are 11 sites for vaccine clinics in Niagara, which Hirji said was done to make sure elderly people could access the vaccine without having to travel across the region. 

"It's really important that we rotate it to all 11 sites because we know it may be difficult for some of our elderly to travel across Niagara, and so we wanted to make sure that there was at least one local option for everybody, wherever they might live, so they have an opportunity to get to a clinic without too much difficulty," Hirji said.

"The schedule we have here when combined with the work that Niagara Health is going to be doing at their clinic will really use up all the vaccine we receive during this period."

Hirji said it won't get to a point where the clinics are operating daily. 

"Unfortunately given the just sheer number of clinics, we're not able to do that. I look at a place like Toronto, which is planning to actually only have at most nine clinics total, and they're only launching three clinics at the end of this month because that's all their capacity is able to manage," Hirji said.

"We're maybe eight or nine times smaller than Toronto in terms of our capacity, so we're not going to be able to sustain 11 full clinics," he said.

However, it's likely there will end up being two or three running per day, he said, and that probably would include one large clinic and then maybe a couple of smaller clinics in other locations.

In April, he hopes pharmacies and primary care physicians will also be able to give vaccines.

Disero said she understands the region's goal of making sure there's a clinic in all municipalities, but thinks public health could have done a better job letting people know they don't have to go to the clinics in their own municipality, she told The Lake Report.

"I mean we've been trying to supplement it as much as we can with videos and media releases and stuff like that, but I really think there could have been, or there could be, more communication," she said.

However, she said she has high hopes the three days will be enough to vaccinate everyone over 80 in NOTL who wants a shot.

She noted vaccines have already been given out to many NOTL residents over 80 who are patients of the Niagara North Family Health. The vaccines were given at a clinic at Seymour-Hannah Sports and Entertainment Centre in St. Catharines.

"Everybody wanted to be first and I wish that we had started sooner. However, what they did do for us in Niagara-on-the-Lake was the doctors last week started calling people over from their patient rosters."

She said she saw several NOTLers getting vaccines when she took her mother to get hers.

"It was like Niagara-on-the-Lake had invaded Seymour-Hannah," she said. "So we've had quite a few people in over at getting their vaccine."

Her hopes are also high that pharmacies will soon have a vaccine supply.

"It's all about supply," she said. "I truly believe in my heart of hearts that Niagara Region's ready. If we can get the supply, we can get it out quickly."

The region held vaccine clinics at the Fort Erie Friendship Centre last week as part of its effort to prioritize Indigenous community members.

During those first clinics in Fort Erie, the region ran into "many small hiccups," Hirji said.

"And then the second day we were able to iron that out and actually had a much smoother clinic experience," he said, adding the plan is to learn the same over multiple days at each of the locations.

"We'll be able to optimize these clinics for those later days and make sure we're running at full steam whenever we get around to the next rotation through all of these locations," Hirji said.

Hirji is recommending everyone eligible who would like a vaccine to register as soon as possible.

"As well, I remind everyone, vaccinated or not, that we need to keep up our other efforts because COVID-19 is unfortunately on the rise once again. For just a couple more months, let’s stay home as much as possible, keep our distance when we do go out, and continue wearing our face coverings and washing our hands.”

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: A green photo health card will be required to make an appointment. Both numbers on the front and back of the card are required. Expired green health cards will be accepted. Anyone who still has a red and white health card, or who requires assistance with booking, can call the vaccine information line.

Public health is advising wait times are likely, both online and by phone.

Those receiving vaccines can bring one essential caregiver with them to their appointment.

Once an appointment is booked, on the day of their appointment residents will need the booking confirmation number or QR code from the provincial booking portal, their health card, a mask and to wear a loose fitting top or T-shirt.

Those with appointments should arrive at least five minutes early. If residents arrive earlier, public health asks that they wait in their car until five minutes prior to their appointment time.

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