TORONTO — Ontario is developing a web portal for booking COVID-19 vaccine appointments when mass immunization is underway, but experts said Monday that more details of the province’s plan are needed to ensure vulnerable residents don’t fall through the cracks.
The Ministry of Health said Monday that Ontario is developing an online site for vaccine appointments, while a customer service desk will also eventually be available for those not comfortable using the web portal.
A spokeswoman said the scheduling software was launched “in pilot mode” in January and work is underway to have more of it in use at the end of February or in early March.
“These processes ‘front-end’ the scheduling system … to provide a path to booking an appointment based on the province’s eligibility framework,” said Alexandra Hilkene, a spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott.
The booking system will be part of the province’s vaccine rollout, which on Sunday was updated to identify adults aged 80 and older, seniors in congregate care and Indigenous adults among those next in line for a shot.
Hilkene noted that planning is underway for how adults 80 years of age and older will be vaccinated, with more details to be provided in the near future.
Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, said he was “elated” to see the vaccine priority list updated to include those over 80.
According to Health Canada, nearly 70 per cent of deaths from COVID-19 have been people aged 80 and older. Many of Sinha’s patients are part of that age demographic, and he said he’s been inundated with emails from patients and their families asking the same question: “How is this going to work?”
“That’s the million dollar question,” Sinha said by phone Monday.
While some younger seniors may be comfortable making appointments online, Sinha noted many in their 80s and older struggle with technology or may be physically unable to travel to mass vaccination sites now being developed by public health units.
Others do not speak English or French as a first language, which can be a barrier when booking health services, he said.
“I’m most worried about my 98-year-old or 97-year-old, homebound people who are quite isolated, and are high risk,” he said. “This is the opportunity for Ontario to really get that right.”
Sinha suggested utilizing the networks of primary care providers such as community paramedics, nurses and physicians, and teams that already have experience performing community vaccinations.
Dr. Jeff Kwong was part of a team that administered vaccinations in long-term care homes and said vaccinating seniors in their homes, as opposed to making them travel to clinics, should be considered.
“Sometimes it’s the best way because these people may not be able to leave their home very easily,” Kwong said by phone Monday.
It could be done with just one person going to a neighbourhood, Kwong said, suggesting home-care providers would be in a good position to administer the shots as they regularly visit patients already.
Some local public health units are in the process of planning neighbourhood mobile vaccination clinics, the Health Ministry said Monday, though the planning is dependent on vaccine supply.
Dr. Nathan Stall, a geriatrician also at Mount Sinai, said greater clarity is needed on the timing of the broader vaccine rollout — especially considering the province has not yet finished fully vaccinating the highest-priority groups that include long-term care residents, nursing home staff and certain health-care workers.
Vulnerable residents with language and accessibility barriers may take longer to accommodate, Stall said, and those factors must be considered.
“My fear is that we may unintentionally de-prioritize them in our real zeal to try and accelerate our vaccine program,” Stall said.
He added that greater clarity in the vaccination timeline would go a long way to lessening the anxiety among isolated people waiting for their shots.
The provincial NDP also called for more detail in the vaccination rollout plan on Monday, saying too many vulnerable people are still waiting in the dark.
“We need this government to reveal a comprehensive plan, now, and to pick up the pace,” Deputy Leader Sara Singh said in a statement. She also criticized the Progressive Conservatives for lacking a plan to deal with vaccine “queue-jumping.”
Sinha said patients are understanding about the need to prioritize certain groups, but Ontarians need to know where they stand in the process — and the lack of clarity so far, coupled with news of non-medical and executive health-care staff receiving vaccines in some cases, is not good for public trust.
“That’s exactly how you undermine people’s confidence and undermine an effective vaccine rollout,” he said.
© 2021 The Canadian Press
Lowest COVID-19 count in PMH since Oct. 5 – The Brandon Sun
At 14 active cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, Prairie Mountain Health recorded its lowest active case total in months.
The region hit the low mark on Saturday, and it was sustained into Sunday after only one new case was reported in the region that day.
The Westman-wide health region last recorded 14 active cases on Oct. 5.
The province announced six COVID-related deaths during the weekend alongside 138 new cases of the virus.
The dead include four women and two men, all in the Winnipeg health region and all in their 80s and 90s.
The 138 new cases is the weekend’s net total, with two having been removed due to data corrections.
New cases include the following health region breakdown:
• 58 in the Northern health region
• 55 in Winnipeg
• 10 in Interlake-Eastern
• 13 in Southern Health Santé Sud
• Four in Prairie Mountain Health
There are now 1,194 active cases of the virus in Manitoba, which is the lowest it has been since mid-October.
The current five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate is 3.7 per cent provincially and 2.7 per cent in Winnipeg.
In Manitoba, 31,859 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, 29,770 people have recovered and 895 people have died.
During the weekend, Manitoba chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin again reminded people to:
• Self-isolate immediate at the onset of possible symptoms
• Testing should be done as soon as possible once symptoms appear
• Travel only if essential
• Physically distance and wear a mask when in indoor public spaces
• Socialize only with your two designated people
» The Brandon Sun
Mass COVID-19 vaccinations to begin in Montreal as province ramps up effort – The Record (New Westminster)
MONTREAL — Quebec’s mass vaccination campaign gets underway in earnest in the Montreal area today as the province begins inoculating members of the general public.
The province announced last week that it was booking appointments for seniors age 85 and up across the province, or 80 and above in Montreal.
Quebec began accepting appointments last Thursday, with nearly 100,000 booked on Day One of the campaign.
Some regions started vaccinating members of the general population late last week, but the campaign is expected to speed up considerably with the opening of mass vaccine clinics in the Montreal area, including one at the Olympic Stadium.
Outlying regions are mainly expected to ramp up after the March break holiday, which gets underway today.
Quebec has so far concentrated its vaccination effort on health care workers, people living in remote regions and seniors in closed environments such as long-term care and private seniors residences.
The province has chosen to delay giving second doses in favour of administering a first jab to as many people as possible, but the province’s health minister said last week it will dole out second doses beginning March 15.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault said Saturday that the start of the mass vaccination campaign was giving him “a lot of hope,” even as he expressed concern about spring break week and the spread of new virus variants.
In a Facebook message, he urged Quebecers to remain vigilant for the coming weeks to allow the province to vaccinate more people, and to wait for immunity to fully develop in those who have received a shot.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2021.
The Canadian Press
20 additional deaths reported as Ontario surpasses 300K COVID-19 cases – Breakfast Television Toronto
Ontario reported 1,062 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday as the province passed a sobering milestone.
It’s the fifth straight day more than 1,000 new infections were confirmed, bringing the provincial total to 300,816 since the pandemic began.
The seven-day rolling average of new cases sits at 1,104, which is an increase from 1,031 last Sunday.
Toronto reported 259 new cases while Peel Region added 201 new infections to its total. York Region reported just 86 new cases – the fewest number of new cases since moving into the Red-Control zone last week.
An additional 23 variants of concern were also confirmed in the province with 528 cases of the variant first discovered in the UK. There are 27 variant strains of the virus first confirmed in South African and just three of the variant first discovered in Brazil. The total number of new variants of concern increased by 158 over the last seven days.
Another 20 people have died as a result of COVID-19, none involving residents in a long-term care setting, leaving the provincial death just shy of 7,000.
Provincial officials processed 49,185 tests in the last 24 hour period with more than 18,000 samples remaining to be confirmed.
Another 19,167 vaccines were administered on Saturday, bringing the provincial total up to 687,271. Just over 260,000 Ontarians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
While the number of hospitalizations fell to 627, likely due to the lack of full reporting from hospitals on the weekend, the number of COVID-19 patients in the ICU rose to 289 while those on ventilators also increased to 185.
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