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Controlling COVID limited by vaccine supply, says local medical officer of health

'It’s a challenge at this time. We’ve had Moderna being delayed and reduced in half and now the AstraZeneca postponement,' says Gardner
2021-04-20 Dr. Gardner screenshot
Simcoe-Muskoka medical officer of health Dr. Charles Gardner speaks to members of the media during a conference call on April 20, 2021.

Simcoe-Muskoka’s medical officer of health says a quicker rollout of the vaccine to the population and the chances of avoiding a fourth wave in the fall is limited by vaccine supply and the ability to immunize more people.

People aged 40 and older are now able to access the AstraZeneca vaccine at local pharmacies as well as through primary health-care providers, increasing the proportion of the population base to be immunized.

But Dr. Charles Gardner says only about half the local capacity to vaccinate is being employed locally. COVID-19 vaccinations are now being booked into May.

“It’s a challenge at this time. We’ve had Moderna being delayed and reduced in half and now the AstraZeneca postponement,” Gardner said during a weekly media briefing Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, the provincial government indicated that a limited supply is a concern as the province moves toward a large rollout. 

An upcoming shipment of Moderna, which was due to be received on April 19, is now delayed until the end of April or the first week of May. And instead of 448,400 doses, only 235,700 doses are expected.

An additional shipment of the AstraZeneca vaccine, estimated to be approximately 389,000 doses, was expected mid-April and will now be delayed to the end of May.

However, Gardner pointed out there has been procurement of additional Pfizer vaccine and more is expected in early May.

“We look forward to the day in which we get much bigger volumes, but we don’t know when that will be,” he said.

Vaccination is our way out of the pandemic, Gardner has said previously.

The doctor says he is hopeful now that 13 pharmacies in Barrie (and another in the Midhurst area) have started offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to those 40 years of age and older, with 1,400 pharmacies provincewide now offering the vaccine in addition to primary health-care providers. 

In Simcoe-Muskoka, he pointed out 47 per cent of COVID-19 cases more recently are in the age range of 40 or older.

But considering the anticipated slowdown of supply, Gardner said the increased availability may not make a huge impact on the overall trajectory.

“I believe that its impact on the third wave will be felt at the tail end of the third wave, rather than bringing it under control at its peak because we have not vaccinated enough of the population and we don’t have enough of it flowing, rapidly enough to be able to achieve an impact right away,” he said. 

“To contemplate the possibility of a fourth wave, particularly in the fall, the likelihood of that in part will depend on how we do on immunization and whether or not we can achieve herd immunity with sufficient coverage of the population as a whole," Gardner added. 

He emphasized the ongoing need to maintain all the control measures in the ongoing battle to limit the spread of COVID-19.