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Reaching provincial vaccine target will be “very challenging” in Northwest

Vaccine uptake in Northwestern Health Unit has stalled short of target province says is necessary to avoid lockdowns.
COVID-19 Vaccine Thunder Bay 1
Provincial modelling suggests an 85 per cent vaccination rate among those 12-plus is needed to avoid fall lockdowns. (File photo)

The Northwestern Health Unit isn’t likely to reach the province’s target of 85 per cent vaccination uptake anytime soon, says medical officer of health Dr. Kit Young Hoon.

The province’s COVID-19 science advisory table released modelling Wednesday suggesting at least 85 per cent of those 12 and over would need to be fully vaccinated to avoid further lockdowns this fall.

That figure was at 73.4 per cent in the NWHU as of Aug. 30, according to provincial numbers. Young Hoon expressed concern in a press conference Thursday that the rate of vaccine uptake has slowed.

“We have started plateauing... in our ability to rapidly increase our vaccination rates, which is disappointing,” she said. “[We’re] a significant distance away from 85 per cent, so I think it’s going to take us some time to get there.”

“To prevent the spread of COVID-19, the modelling does indicate that we need higher vaccination coverage rates.”

The science table’s new projections indicate Ontario’s ICU occupancy could exceed levels seen during the third wave by October, without reducing transmission. That’s driven by the rise of the Delta variant, which comes with a two to three times higher risk of ICU admission than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The data also showed the unvaccinated have a 30-fold higher risk of being hospitalized, and a 48-fold higher risk of being admitted to the ICU, compared to those fully vaccinated.

Young Hoon, who has long expressed concern about vaccine uptake in the region, said the NWHU has used pop-up and walk-in clinics and other strategies to try to boost numbers.

 “We have strived very much to make this an accessible vaccine for anyone,” she said. “Unfortunately there are still people who are not coming forward to get vaccinated.”

“At this point we’ve been sitting in the 70 per cents for quite a while, so I do think it’s going to be very challenging to get to 85 per cent or over.”

Note: An earlier version of this article stated vaccination rates for the Thunder Bay District Health Unit were similar to those in the Northwestern Health Unit. That comparison drew from local statistics, which use different population estimates than the provincial numbers used by the NWHU.

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