COVID-19 Vaccination Uptake in Algoma Explained

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The first resident of Algoma received the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine in the Algoma region. He is a resident of the Ontario Finnish Rest Home (Mauno Kaihla Koti). (photo courtesy, Algoma Public Health, January 27, 2021)

Earlier this week, SaultOnline reached out to the Algoma Public Health Unit (APH) with some questions many of our viewers have posed related to the COVID-19 vaccination uptake here in the Sault and Algoma District. Our intent, with the assistance of APH, was to answer some of these questions to provide a more clear snapshot across our Public Health Region (PHU).

According to the most recent COVID-19 Vaccine Uptake Surveillance Report in Ontario put out by Public Health Ontario which covers from December 14, 2020 through to May 8, 2021, our area seems to be significantly lagging behind compared to the other PHUs here in Northern Ontario. The following are the vaccination uptakes across Northern Ontario taken from the Surveillance Report:

Public Health Unit
1 Dose / Doses 1 & 2
Fully Vaccinated
Algoma Public Health 33.7% 3.4%
North Bay Parry Sound 37.7% 1.6%
Porcupine 40.5% 1.3%
Sudbury & Districts 37.5% 2.2%
Thunder Bay 42.9% 5.6%
Timiskaming 49.0% 1.8%
ONTARIO 38.7% 2.6%

Source: Public Health Ontario

As mentioned earlier, we posed some of the questions from viewers to APH and were provided the following responses from Dr. Loo:

Why does the Algoma District appear to be lagging so far behind other PHUs across Northern Ontario?

A. “During the first three weeks of May, the province has allocated additional vaccine supply to hot spot areas, in order to prevent as many hospitalizations and deaths as possible. Earlier in the year, the province also prioritize vaccine for certain special populations, such as remote northern communities.”

Is the province prioritizing vaccinations in other areas due to the fact that here in Algoma we seem to be weathering the pandemic better than others?

A. “Algoma has continued to receive baseline vaccine allocations from the province, proportional to our population.  We have not received any additional vaccine allocations such as doses for hot spots or for remote/fly-in communities.”

Why are we just now lowering the eligibility to 50+ when other areas across the province have already been expanded to include residents 40+? Can this be attributed to Algoma’s age demographics?

A. “Algoma has been following the priority sequence established by the province, to immunize groups at highest risk first, such as older adults, people living and working in long term care homes and retirement homes, and people who are First Nation, Inuit or Metis. Once higher risk groups have had reasonable opportunity to be immunized, the next priority groups become eligible for immunization.

The demographic makeup of Algoma is such that we have a large portion of our population who are in earlier Phase 1 groups and older adult priority groups.  For example, the previous Census showed that Algoma has a higher percentage of our population who are seniors over 65 (23.7%) compared to the North East (20.6%) and to Ontario (16.7%).  Algoma also has a higher proportion of Indigenous people (13.8%), similar to the North East (13.4%), as compared to Ontario overall (2.8%).  This means that it takes more vaccine, and more time, to provide immunization to these priority groups.

Some priority groups, such as LTCH residents and Indigenous people, also receive their second doses at a shortened time interval – this means that a portion of vaccines are reserved to ensure these Phase 1 groups receive their second doses at the proper time.

Lastly, we have seen very strong vaccine uptake in these groups – well over 80% of older adults, and over 90% of long term care residents.  This is very good news and is ultimately what we are trying to achieve – maximal protection, for as many people as possible who are at highest risk.”

Dr. Loo went on to note that “as soon as the majority of people in the highest risk groups have had opportunity to book appointments and be immunized, and as soon as there is confirmed future supply of vaccine, additional age groups and priority groups may book appointments.”

An increase in supply of the COVID-19 vaccine from the provincial government is expected in the coming weeks. Based on this information, the Algoma Public Health (APH) and Algoma Ontario Health Team (AOHT) announced that starting next week, adults 50+ and all essential workers will have 7,000 new appointment bookings made available at the clinic held at GFL Memorial Gardens. Adults 40+ will also now be able to book an appointment at a number of local pharmacies, who are also beginning immunizations next week.