Vaccine booking system being tested locally, not available to public for weeks

Dr. Sudit Ranade speaking at a virtual Seaway Kiwanis meeting on March 2.

Cathy Dobson

Lambton is among six public health units testing Ontario’s online booking system for COVID-19 vaccinations to ensure it doesn’t crash when it’s available to the general public in a few weeks, says its medical officer of health.

Dr. Sudit Ranade said Tuesday that local Emergency Medical Service (EMS) workers are testing the system this week by booking vaccination appointments and getting their shots at two permanent vaccination clinics set up at the Point Edward Arena/Optimist Hall and the Wyoming Fairgrounds. A third clinic is in Forest.

But the system won’t take appointments from the general public until at least March 15 or later, said Ranade.

“Hopefully, it will be March 15 but, realistically, there could be glitches,” he said.

Ontario looked for test sites after online booking systems crashed within minutes of launching in other jurisdictions, including Alberta.

Ranade said he’s hopeful that working out “the bugs” now will allow quick access to online bookings for Ontario residents.

He also said Tuesday that thousands of vaccines will be administered daily in Sarnia-Lambton once the booking system is up and running, as long as the vaccine supply is flowing.

A shipment of 3,500 vaccine doses arrived Monday after 4,700 doses arrived last week.

The new shipment of Pfizer vaccines is being administered by invitation only to staff and essential caregivers of long-term care and retirement homes.

Lambton Public Health and Sarnia are also working on a drive-thru clinic at the Strangway Centre for people with mobility issues. When it will be operational is not yet known.

Ranade addressed questions about vaccines during a Q & A with the Seaway Kiwanis Club Tuesday.

The evidence is clear that age is the most significant factor for severe disease and death from COVID-19, he said.

People over 60 have a dramatically increased risk of getting sicker from the virus and that’s why the rollout targets the older population first.

Three vaccines have been approved in Canada and no one is likely to get to choose which one they get, he said.  Side effects are mild with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, and more common in people under 65 and more common with the second dose.

“I’m still reviewing the data on (the recently approved) AstraZeneca and it looks like that data is a little bit different in terms of the side effects,” he said.

Depending on vaccine availability, Ranade said he expects local residents 80 years and over to start getting shots this month, along with more health-care workers, as well as second doses for long-term care and retirement home staff and caregivers.

By May, the general population will begin to have access “moving down the age spectrum,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sarnia-Lambton has been in the red “control” zone since Feb. 22, just one zone up from ‘Lockdown.’

Ten new cases were reported Tuesday, with a total of 73 active cases. The death toll remained at 46.

The reason the number of cases increased in February was a lack of adherence to COVID-19 protocols, Ranade said.

“It’s because people are gathering socially and going to work with symptoms. It was inevitable.”

Dr. Ranade acknowledged residents are exhausted after a year of pandemic restrictions, and urged those who feel chronically stressed or anxious to reach out for help and focus on self-care.

“I hope you are being very compassionate with yourselves because it’s been a very long and challenging period of time to get through for everyone,” he said.

RED ZONE RULES

* Social gatherings capped at five people indoors and 25 outdoors, but health officials say they should be avoided entirely.

* Leave home only for essential reasons, including work, school, groceries, exercise, caregiving or health care.

* Don’t visit other households or allow visitors into the home.

* Weddings and funerals capped at 30% capacity indoors or 100 people outside.

* Maximum of 10 people allowed to dine indoors at bars and restaurants, which must close by 10 p.m. and can’t serve alcohol after 9 p.m. A maximum of four people per table is allowed.

* Live music and dancing prohibited.

* Team sports aren’t allowed but training is permitted.

* Gyms and fitness facilities, casinos and event spaces can have 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors.

* Hair salons, spas and tattoo parlours are permitted but can’t perform procedures that require face mask removal.