THUNDER BAY — The Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre has expanded the COVID-19 vaccination program beyond workers in long-term-care homes and individuals who will administer the vaccine on First Nations.
Local long-term care workers doing direct care with nursing home residents were the first to receive the Pfizer vaccine when it arrived in the city a few days before Christmas.
The initial rollout also involved people such as paramedics, ORNGE air ambulance personnel and other individuals who will deliver vaccine to remote northern communities.
As of the end of the day Monday, an estimated 600 people were expected to have received the first of the required two doses of Pfizer vaccine at the hospital vaccination centre.
The second dose must be given 21 days after the first.
TBRHSC President Rhonda Crocker Ellacott said the hospital is now providing vaccinations on a dual track, with the addition of higher-risk hospital staff to the recipient list.
"Areas like the Emergency Department and the ICU, we do have a priority matrix where we prioritize staff that would be in more vulnerable areas," she said in an interview.
Crocker Ellacott said a task force identifies staff "in areas where we would see aerosol-generating procedures, areas where we may see intubations happening, and that sort of thing, or potentially unexpected exposures where we don't know whether individuals coming into the ED are COVID positive or negative."
The task force looks at vulnerable areas at both at the TBRHSC and the St. Joseph's Care Group.
"Things are going very well and we're looking forward to continuing throughout the week," Crocker Ellacott said.
For security purposes, the hospital won't disclose how much vaccine it received, but Crocker Ellacott believes all the first doses will be dispensed by Thursday.
Additional shipments from Belgium are expected to arrive starting mid-month.
To ensure the second shots are administered on time, Crocker Ellacott said approximately 100 doses of the existing supply will be held back.
She said this is a precaution against the possibility there's a slight delay in receiving the next shipment.
"We want to make sure we don't compromise the vaccine status of any individual," Crocker Ellacott said.
The hospital is waiting for the results of tests in southern Ontario into whether the Pfizer vaccine can safely be moved for administering off-site.
"If there's the ability to move it, then if we were to receive additional doses, we would be able to have a much more significant reach...from just an on-site strategy to something that could potentially travel right into LTC homes and really support the residents in long-term care," she said.
Crocker Ellacott said the hospital is looking forward to hearing more about the required logistics, and will be ready to move as soon as it gets the word.
However, she cautioned that this would require ramped-up vaccine shipments.
"We're looking forward, I think, to additional doses coming in February and March, but confirmation of those dates still hasn't been received, so it's a work in progress."