As we round the corner on the Covid-19 pandemic we are entering an important phase; vaccination to protect our people.
I wanted to share a note with you about the importance of everyone getting the vaccine, as it is made available to us, and the safety of doing such.
The pandemic has caused enormous upheaval to basically every household in Canada. Social isolation, job security, economic impact and fear for the health of family and friends have all come together to make for a very tough year in 2020.
Happily we are at the beginning of the end of that journey. We have been in this situation for nearly a year and it is estimated we have another few months or so of tough times before we can start to transition back to more a more normal kind of life.
Key to that happening is widespread engagement in the vaccination program currently being rolled out in our country.
Herd immunity starts to be achieved when we hit somewhere around 65% of our population vaccinated and is more certain once we reach ~75%.
That means we need the vast majority of people to step up to take the vaccine. It is the absolute, game changing moment to transitioning our lives back to normal.
There is unfortunately a great deal of misinformation and irrational thinking with regards to the vaccine. People are worried about its safety, questioning how it got developed and approved so quickly and wondering if corners were cut to do so.
The simple answer to these questions is that the vaccine is safe; it has followed every step required in terms of proper development and testing. If Health Canada has approved the vaccine for Canadians then we can be confident in its safety. That is the important role they play for the safety of Canadians and we can be confident in their decisions.
To provide a little more detail, there are 4 key reasons the vaccine was able to be developed so quickly:
- The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use a different technology to what traditional vaccines have employed; different but not new. It isn’t a brand new technology, it was developed many years ago and has been refined over the years to be used really effectively and safely. It uses messenger RNA to essentially deliver a message using genetic code into cells to allow them to combat the virus. This means the messenger technology had already been developed and tested. To use it you just have to have the genetic sequence of the virus you are targeting, which is not very hard to get, and use that to code the mRNA. This takes much less time than the method used to develop vaccines using traditional approaches.
- Scientists were already familiar with the basic sequence of corona viruses like Covid-19 and how they work having worked with other corona viruses in the past such as SARS. This gave them a head start on developing the vaccine.
- Normally drug approvals take a very long time as they are simply added to a big pile of other drugs needing approval and eventually make their way to the top. This can take months. Give the urgency of the situation, these vaccines went right to the top of the pile every time an approval was required which dramatically cut back on the time to get them approved.
- Again, given the urgency of the situation, drug companies, Pfizer and BioNTech being a great example, collaborated with other companies to share their knowledge and work done to dramatically accelerate the timeframe to develop technologies. Collaboration is a time tested way to get answers faster, 2 heads are better than one.
There is plenty of speculation about side effects for the vaccine and who should and shouldn’t receive it. For instance the rare allergic reactions seen in early vaccine administration were in very specific situations of highly allergic individuals with a history of anaphylactic reaction (ie to reagents in vaccines or other very specific allergens). This is clearly a much higher risk individual not representative of a significant demographic of the population. Anyone concerned about their possible reaction to the vaccine should of course have a conversation with a health care provider about such and not simply independently conclude the vaccine isn’t safe for them, and in fact, the immunizer will discuss the situation in detail with every person they vaccinate.
Over the coming months, the vaccine rollout will gather momentum.
The vaccine rollout is an enormous and complex task but the team has hit the ground running:
- The government team has been planning for the rollout since last spring and is very ready
- As of early March the number of people having received at least one shot of vaccine was triple the total number of confirmed positive cases in the province and it is growing every day
- As of early March, vaccinations were running at more than 25,000 a day depending on supply availability, and increasing every week. Daily capacity will ramp to 160,000 a day by Q2 2021
The rollout will ramp more meaningfully in coming weeks, all tied to when more doses are sent to us. The number of doses we will receive in Ontario from Pfizer and Moderna increases dramatically each month
- Jan was nearly double Dec
- Feb will be more than double Jan
- Mar more than double Feb to over 1.3 mill doses expected (Pfizer expected to catch up the Jan/Feb shortfall by end of Mar)
- April, May and June expecting nearly 14 mill doses in total
- Of course these are planning numbers and will be confirmed closer to delivery dates but is what is being used for planning
- Any additional vaccines approved would of course add to these figures
The recent approval of the Astra Zeneca vaccine will dramatically accelerate the process as well!
The current plan based on estimates of available vaccine is in 3 phases:
- Phase 1 – between Dec and the end of March, ~2.4 mill doses will be received, focus is 5 priority groups such as long term care residents and health care workers, who represent ~ 2.1 mill people. Over 80’s were recently added to the phase 1 priority groups and are eligible now for their vaccine.
- Phase 2 – Apr 1 to end of Aug, the plan is for ~15 mill doses to be received, focus is 5 priority groups such as older adults and essential workers who represent 9 million people, noting phase 2 high risk groups may start to be vaccinated in overlap with the latter stage of the phase 1 groups.
- Phase 3 – Sept 1 thru end of Dec 2021, focus is balance of Ontarians, <3 million people.
- At least 8.5 million Ontarians will be vaccinated by mid July which is 60% of the population
Ontario's COVID-19 vaccination distribution plan. Government of Ontario.
Again this doesn't include Astra Zeneca which should accelerate these efforts!
A system to be used for the general public to sign up for the vaccine is something the Ontario government is close to launching and again will be accessed on their website. Individuals will enter their intent to have a vaccine into the website with all the required information to streamline timing on vaccination day. The system, COVAX, will automatically schedule the individual based on the prioritization plan and send a notice of where and when they will get the vaccine. Notice for the second dose will follow and the system will also generate a digital proof of vaccination (which can also be printed). If you need help getting signed up for the vaccine contact our HR department, they will be happy to help you register.
In the interim, The Wellington Dufferin Guelph health unit has launched their own registration portal to allow residents to sign up, it can be found here.
Proof of vaccination may be required by a variety of institutions in coming months in order for people to be granted access.
Each province has their own plan but all are based on recommendations from the federal government which basically align with these groups and priorities.
It is expected that 100% of Canadians who want a vaccine can get one by the end of September 2021.
The bottom line is, the vaccine is safe, no steps were skipped in its development, testing or approval, and the vast majority of Canadians taking the vaccine is THE critical key step in helping us all return to a normal, healthy life.
Let’s all play a role in making sure that happens.