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York Region takes aim at COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy as rates plateau

While 75% of eligible residents have had a first dose and 30% have received second doses, progress on new vaccinations has slowed, according to the medical officer of health
June 25, 2021
Joseph Quigley

As first dose COVID-19 vaccination rates begin to plateau -- particularly in age groups under 35 -- York Region is taking aim at vaccine hesitancy.

While 75 per cent of eligible residents have had a first dose and 30 per cent have received second doses, progress on first doses has slowed, according to medical officer of health Dr. Karim Kurji.

For instance, only 944 residents were newly vaccinated June 21, a fraction of the approximately 17,000 daily doses being administered at York Region clinics, Kurji said at a regional meeting this morning, June 24.

More than 80 per cent of residents aged 40 and above have received a first dose, however, the vaccination rate for individuals aged 18 to 34 are between 60 to 70 per cent, he aid. The public health unit continues to target 80 to 85 per cent vaccinated to help reach herd immunity.

“Uptake overall is very high,” York Region's chief of vaccine operations, Katarina Garpenfeldt, told councillors. “While we have not experienced the levels of vaccine hesitancy we have anticipated, we have worked to improve vaccine confidence in some of these lower age bands.”

Marginalized groups who may be more impacted by the pandemic or having more difficulty accessing vaccines are being targeted through outreach initiatives, director of strategies and partnerships Joseph Silva said.

“The evidence is clear that a one-size-fits-all approach is not likely to be effective,” Silva said.

Access may also be a factor for younger groups, Kurji said, since eligibility has only opened for them in recent weeks and residents seeking second doses are eating up available appointments at this time.

Public health will try to address the issue with targeted efforts and pop-up clinics for first doses, he added.

Newmarket Mayor John Taylor asked about hesitancy created by reports of medical conditions associated with vaccines, such as AstraZeneca. 

“There are so many twists and turns that get revealed,” Kurji said. “These vaccines are essentially much safer than getting COVID.”

Taylor suggested creating awareness about the restrictions facing unvaccinated people may help overcome hesitancy.

“At some point, people are going to come up against the limitations of living unvaccinated. There are going to be limitations,” Taylor said. “That’s going to move some people.”

Markham Regional Councillor Jack Heath said a tougher approach is needed to get more people vaccinated.

“We need something in there that is a bigger stick,” Heath said, suggesting measures like a mandatory vaccine for high school students. “More needs to be done.”

However, Vaughan Regional Councillor Linda Jackson said residents' choices to vaccinate or not should be respected.

“Vaccination is a personal choice,” she said. “People have a right to choose.”

York Region Chair and CEO Wayne Emmerson said despite challenges, the region has come a long way in its vaccine rollout.

“We’ve done tremendous,” Emmerson said, adding there have been some glitches. “If you don’t do anything, you’ll never make a mistake.”