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York Region aims to boost 1st-dose vaccinations as COVID-19 Delta variant looms

'We're very proud of our vaccination rates,' but some people are being left behind, Kurji says
June 18, 2021

While York Region has one of the lowest COVID-19 incidence levels in the GTA and neighbouring jurisdictions, a danger still lurks in our communities -- one in four people have still not received any vaccine.

That presents problems, York Region’s top doctor said, because the Delta variant is here, and it’s spreading.

At the June 17 regional council meeting, medical officer of health Dr. Karim Kurji said incidence levels in York have dropped to 15 per 100,000 -- the lowest rate since the summer of 2020

That said, it has been estimated 40-per-cent of York Region COVID-19 cases may be the Delta variant, which is said to be 60-per-cent more transmissible than the Alpha variant.

Studies in the UK show that even one dose of vaccine provides substantial protection against Delta, Kurji said.

There's evidence of that locally. In York Region, when an individual tests positive for Delta, their close household contacts who have had at least one dose are testing negative, he said.

"Most of the individuals who die are unvaccinated -- without one dose of the vaccine -- so it is critically important for us to continue to reach out to individuals who haven’t received any vaccines."

The region plans to open a pop-up clinic at the Father Ermanno Bulfon Community Centre in Woodbridge June 19 and 20. It will be focused solely on those requiring first doses to avoid the "chaos" that happens when second doses are offered on a pop-up basis elsewhere, he said.

The clinic will then operate with appointment-based vaccinations from June 22 to July 4.

Data show the Martin Grove Road neighbourhood in the Father Ermanno community is under-represented in terms of first doses, Kurji said.

So far, the region has only had notification of 21 Delta variant cases, but the region expects more accurate tallies when case numbers fall and the Public Health Ontario lab is able to identify more accurately through genomic sequences.

"Our policy here has always been to treat every case as though it were a variant and to do a very through case and content management followup in order to contain the spread," he said.

Regional chairperson Wayne Emmerson said it appears many residents are eager to get second doses and back to a normal way of life.

On June 14, York Region released an additional 18,000 vaccine appointments. By 8:30 a.m., there were more than 27,000 users on the website waiting to book these appointments, and within 15 minutes appointments at all vaccination clinics were fully booked, he said.

Between June 14 and 15, York Region’s website received more than 1-million page views, he said.

"It is clear, most of our residents want to get vaccinated," Emmerson said.

To learn more about those who aren't as eager, or able, to get shots, the regional public health unit plans to present a comprehensive report on vaccine hesitancy -- or, as it’s being called now, vaccine confidence -- at its next meeting June 24.

"We are seeing outbreaks of the Delta virus in Waterloo and the medical officer of health there believes it is largely among unvaccinated individuals," Kurji said. "We want to avoid any such situations in York Region. It’s very easy for the virus to get a stronghold in unvaccinated individuals and we hope we don’t have large pockets of those in York Region."