THUNDER BAY - For the past several months, teams have been travelling to remote communities throughout Northern Ontario to ensure vulnerable populations are protected from COVID-19, and with more than 25,000 doses of vaccine administered, the operation is being called a complete success.
Ornge began Operation Remote Immunity on Feb. 1 and it was tasked with immunizing people living in 32 remote First Nations communities throughout the region.
“Running an operation like this with that many moving parts in the middle of winter in Northern Ontario was challenging,” said Wade Durham, chief operating officer of medical operations with Ornge.
“Luckily everything cooperated, including the weather. The other challenge was moving the vaccine, which is a delicate vaccine and keeping it in a frozen state until we got to communities so it could be administered. A little bit of luck and a lot of planning, the mission was a complete success.”
Throughout the two-month operation, nearly 25,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine were administered, with 14,000 first doses and 11,000 second doses.
The operation wrapped up on April 9 though Durham said there are still some ongoing drop-offs of vaccine doses to some communities.
“There are a few other vaccine drops we are doing in some of the communities for catch-up for people who missed their second dose while we were in community,” he said. “We are on track to wrap up completely by April 30.”
Ornge is currently demobilizing vaccine teams in the hub cities of Thunder Bay, Sioux Lookout, and Timmins.
Durham said throughout the operation there was some vaccine hesitancy among community members, but overall 90 per cent of people were vaccinated.
“The communities were extremely supportive of us being there and very helpful when we were in the community,” he said.
“Originally we planned for 16,000 first doses, we had 14,000 doses. Overall a good success across the board. Good communication with the communities ahead of time was key.”
According to Durham, there were no issues with vaccine supply or delivery, as doses were allocated to the operation as part of phase one of the province’s vaccine rollout, which included First Nation communities as a priority.
Durham added that Operation Remote Immunity really highlighted what Ornge is capable of and the dedication and hard work of the team members.
“We essentially had a month to get this mission up and running and that included having all the team double vaccinated themselves and cultural sensitivity training and training on the Moderna vaccine,” he said.
“It was a really quick turn around, but thanks to the team and the dedication and the amount of help we had in the communities, it was quite successful.”
Ornge will now be focusing on assisting Southern Ontario with the transportation of COVID-19 patients to other hospitals.