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COVID-19 vaccine may be available to age 60+ by Monday, York Region's top doc says
April 9, 2021

Majority of hospitalizations are occurring in residents 65 and older, medical officer of health Dr. Karim Kurji says
about 14 hours ago By: Jessica Owen

2021-04-07 Kurji JO-001
Dr. Karim Kurji, York Region’s top public health doctor, provides an update on York Region's phase 2 vaccine rollout to regional council on Thursday.Screenshot
York Region’s medical officer of health is hoping to move from a defensive strategy to an offensive one in the region’s fight against COVID-19.

During Thursday morning’s York regional council committee of the whole meeting, councillors received a vaccination strategy update from Dr. Karim Kurji, York Region’s top public health doctor, as well as Zahra Kassan and Katarina Garpenfeldt, the region’s vaccine operations chiefs.

“This strategy is based on the provincial framework, but because there is not enough supply to York Region, we cannot do everything in that framework as quickly as other communities who have more supply,” said Kassan.

The vaccine capacity for April and May in York Region is estimated at 240,000 doses, however, Kassan said the region is anticipating receiving only 80,000 doses from the province.

“This strategy is based on maximizing the supply we do have to address the areas of greatest need based on the data,” she said.

As part of York Region’s phase 2 vaccination plan, the following groups are eligible: residents 65 years of age and older, faith leaders, people with high-risk health conditions, hotspot communities and senior independent living residents through a mobile immunization team.

“As soon as we notice drops in booking patterns, that’s the correct time in terms of our assessment to open it up to over-60. We are hoping the over-60s will probably be opened up by Monday (for the mass immunization clinics distributing Pfizer and Moderna), but it could be sooner depending on the patterns,” said Kurji, clarifying that anyone over 55 is already eligible for Astra-Zeneca at local pharmacies.

Kurji noted that up until this point, the public health unit had been using a “defensive” strategy when it came to determining who should be eligible for a vaccine.

“However, we have been noticing the variants have been rising, along with the other COVID-19 cases. Only 10 per cent of those variants occur in people over the age of 65. So, what we’ve been doing so far hasn’t really touched the variants in terms of our vaccination policies,” said Kurji.

“We now need to shift to an offensive strategy. This will concentrate on the hotspot areas of York Region and go right to where the fires are burning,” he said.

The province has identified 114 high priority communities across Ontario based on COVID-19 incidence rates, hospitalizations and deaths. Thirteen of those communities are in York Region, however, none of the hotspot communities set out by the province are in Newmarket.

The provincial government announced this week that phase 2 of the vaccination eligibility would start, and would run between April and June 2021. According to the province, in phase 2, the following groups are eligible to receive a vaccine:

Adults aged 60 to 79, in five-year increments
High-risk congregate settings (such as shelters, community living)
Individuals with high-risk chronic conditions and their caregivers
Those who cannot work from home
At-risk populations
As of April 7, Kassan said the total number of vaccines administered in York Region is 214,872 doses.

Of the following groups who have been eligible for the vaccine, Kassan provided data on how many people have received doses:

Long-term care home residents - Over 80 per cent
Retirement home residents - Over 90 per cent
Residents 80 years of age and older - 83.4 per cent
Residents 75-79 years of age - 78.3 per cent
Residents 70-74 years of age - 66 per cent
Residents 65-69 years of age - 36.5 per cent
Highest, very high and highest priority health-care workers - 83 per cent
The total number of AstraZeneca vaccines administered to York Region residents through the provincial pharmacy pilot is 15,017 doses.

However, Kurji said individual residents still need to be diligent. He said he is fully in support of the current stay-at-home order.

“About 90 per cent of the variants are not occurring in workplaces. They are occurring in the community. One in two of these cases is due to close contact with someone in the household. Most of the time, we don’t know how they get into the household,” he said.

Kassan said 34 per cent of all workplace outbreaks in York Region are related to product/materials manufacturing workplaces. Ten per cent are in food manufacturing workplaces. Thirty four per cent of all York Region workplace outbreaks are in Vaughan.

Two thirds of the hospitalizations are still coming from the over-65s, noted Kurji.

“In the absence of vaccines, we have to really concentrate on those that contribute more to the hospitalizations or to mortality,” he said.

Newmarket Regional Councillor Tom Vegh started discussion by asking about comments made this week by Premier Doug Ford, that by the end of the stay at home order, he expected 40 per cent of the population would be vaccinated.

“Is that realistic?” asked Vegh.

Kurji said when discounting people under 18 who don’t have a vaccine approved for their use yet, he believes it is possible.

“We would be able to deliver even greater quantities, but it all depends on vaccine supply,” said Kurji.

Vegh also asked about the mobile vaccine program for seniors, and how the process would work for booking.

“We’ve identified 28 (locations) based on data, and there are 106 buildings. We have almost completed those 28,” said Kassan. “We still have to decide if we’re going to do more than the 28 we’ve already done.”

Vegh asked if the public health unit could inform councillors should they determine more mobile clinics can be held. Kassan said further information could be shared. Dr. Kurji added that if transportation to a clinic was an issue, there are volunteer driver resources on the region’s website.

Newmarket Mayor John Taylor asked how many vaccines York Region has in freezers.

“We have insisted we don’t want to keep any vaccines in freezers, because of that, we had to close three clinics over the Easter period,” said Kurji, adding that the Canada’s Wonderland clinic was one of the clinics closed.

At the end of next seven days, Garpenfeldt estimated there would be no doses left in York Region freezers of Moderna or Pfizer until a new shipment comes in. She said the region doesn’t have a direct line of sight to the pharmacies when it comes to the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, so she wasn’t able to estimate a number for that specific vaccine.

“For all intents and purposes, within seven days, we’ll have zero in the freezers. Is that fair?” asked Taylor.

“In general, yes,” said Garpenfeldt.

Currently, Kurji said York Region does not have enough vaccines to start hotspot vaccinations for everyone.

He said a number of workplaces in the hotspot areas associated with multiple outbreaks will be targeted for vaccination of all workers in those facilities once more vaccines come in. Health workers will be sent into the facilities through mobile clinics.

As part of next steps, Kassan said the board of health would be moving down the age-bands in five-year increments and priority groups, which will include essential workers who cannot work from home.

They will also be planning for second doses.