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'We’re pleading': Region urges unvaccinated residents to get the shot as spread of Delta variant continues

Waterloo region's vaccine wall needs to reach 90 per cent to be effective, says top doctor
COVID vaccine arrives in Waterloo Region
COVID vaccine arrives in Waterloo Region in December, 2020.

As Ontario reported an upward trend in the number of COVID-19 cases with 226 new infections and 11 new deaths, Waterloo Region’s medical officer of health reminded everyone in a Friday media briefing that we remain at risk from a resurgence of the Delta variant “because our vaccination wall is not complete.”

“Our case rates have been falling but will likely rise again,” Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said, adding the goal we need to reach to gain ground against the highly-transmissible variant is 90 per cent fully vaccinated.

“Every day that someone delays their vaccination is a day lost in the fight against a fourth wave,” Wang said.

The warning that we’re not there yet comes despite a successful vaccine rollout that has so far achieved full vaccination among 69 per cent of the eligible population. Almost 83 per cent of residents aged 12 and over have at least one dose of the vaccine.

The good news is, Waterloo region is reporting about 17 cases per 100,000 people per week, down from about 60 per week at the beginning of July.

And the region’s 18-29 year old population is now the highest number of first doses in the province with over 80 per cent of those in that age group having had a first dose.

The bad news; among those who are still being infected with COVID-19 and entering hospital with severe symptoms, 72.1 per cent are not vaccinated at all while 25.3 per cent either had only one dose of the vaccine or were infected within the two-week window after their second dose. Only 2.6 per cent were fully vaccinated in what is considered a breakthrough case.

Of the 282 deaths in Waterloo Region, 83.4 per cent were among the unvaccinated population. 

So far the region has had five deaths among fully vaccinated individuals, all of which were vulnerable due to age or disease.

Wang said the region is dealing with an outbreak of the Delta variant at the Adventure4Change day camp in Waterloo, which closed voluntarily and has been cooperative with public health.

“We are encouraging anyone who has attended the camp to seek testing,” Wang said, adding she expects more cases will be identified from the camp in the coming days.

On the vaccination front, Vickie Murray, director of pharmacy at Grand River Hospital, said clinics administered an average of 4,700 vaccine doses a day over the last week for a total of 42,862 doses.

“We’re still very effective at moving the bar even though doses have slowed over the last week,” she said, adding that 33,986 people still need to fully vaccinate to reach the provincial target of 75 per cent.

Two vaccine buses that rolled out last week are seeing an average of about 20 per cent of people coming in for their first doses.

Murray says people coming into the clinic are giving a variety of reasons for not getting the vaccine sooner. Excuses range from too busy, to vaccine hesitancy, to mobility.

Outreach opportunities continue to be priorities as we move through the vaccination process, she said.

The buses will be at various locations over the weekend to provide walk-in doses to anyone who has so far been unable to get vaccinated. 

Phase 2 of youth vaccination outreach begins next week at a number of schools, including the arrival of the “hockey hub model” to Monsignor Doyle.

Appointments are no longer necessary at any of the region’s clinics.

The region’s CAO Bruce Lauckner praised the many businesses who are stepping up and encouraging vaccination among employees and customers to limit spread.

“We’re beyond asking, we’re pleading at this time,” he said. “The only way we can protect unvaccinated children is to get vaccinated.”

Without it, he warned, the region could see more shutdown and impact on schools because of the spread.

Dr. Wang said the only way to keep the economic reopening going in a positive direction is to continue to progress toward 90 per cent vaccination and herd immunity.

“What appears to be a slower way to the objective is sometimes the only way to achieve an objective,” she said. “Every time you have to take a step back it’s harder for our community.”

Earlier goals for achieving herd immunity were in the range of 75 per cent of a fully vaccinated population. That number was based on the transmissibility of the Alpha variant, Wang said. With Delta, the bar is much higher.

Commenting on Alberta’s plans to fully reopen next month without any public health restrictions, Wang said it wouldn’t be the path she would recommend.

“The vaccine is not 100 per cent.”

Unless people are fully immunized to that higher threshold, they will be at greater risk of infection if the virus keeps circulating in the unimmunized population. There’s also the potential for further mutation of the virus which could weaken the efficacy of the vaccine, Wang said.