by Kirk Winter

The Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit focused on the problems they are having with providing enough flu vaccines and the planning already underway for the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine at their Nov. 19 meeting.

Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Lynn Noseworthy, said the health unit is having “challenges” in the rollout of flu vaccines for the 2020-2021 flu season.

“There are two different vaccines we are dealing with,” Noseworthy said, “the high dose vaccine and the quadrivalent vaccine that is designed to deal with four different strains of the flu. Currently we are all out of the high dose vaccine and the province is reviewing their procurement and distribution plans.”

She said they began their flu shot program in October and so far have used 42,000 doses supplied by the province.

Kawartha Lakes councillor Doug Elmslie said drug stores in his area are short of the vaccine and wondered what the health unit could do about the situation.

“We do not supply the pharmacies,” Noseworthy responded, “and there are currently waiting lists for the vaccine.”

It was suggested provincial health units were only supplied the vaccine at the level they ordered last year, with no consideration for a surge of requests fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The shortages were called “distressing” by Dr. Ian Gemmill, one of the physicians involved in the call.

Gemmill added the only silver lining regarding the flu season is data from the Southern hemisphere, which has already had their winter flu season and saw remarkably low numbers.

Health unit staff suggested there were two likely reasons for those hopeful numbers from South America, Africa, Asia and Australia. The first is “viral competition,” where the common flu virus has been overwhelmed by the much stronger COVID-19 virus and not given a chance to take hold in the nations providing data. The second is that precautions taken for COVID-19, including mask wearing, social distancing, hand washing and the cleaning of high touch surfaces in public buildings, are also very effective in limiting the spread of the flu.

“We still encourage people to get their flu shots (once they are again available). It is certainly not too late,” Dr. Noseworthy said.

Noseworthy also shared “promising results” about the rollout of the COVID19 vaccines pioneered by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna.

“We expect the vaccine will be offered in a staggered manner with high risk individuals and those workers with an elevated risk of infection getting it first,” Noseworthy said.

“Aboriginal communities are also expected to be a priority,” Noseworthy added.

“We are working on a rollout which we expect in the first quarter of 2021,” Noseworthy said.

Elmslie asked Noseworthy how the vaccine will be distributed and whether it will follow the flu vaccine distribution model.

“The Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept at -70 Celsius and the Moderna vaccine at -20 degrees Celsius,” Noseworthy said, “and with that in mind the vaccines will likely only be available at health unit clinics.”

Noseworthy promised more information on the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.

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