Windsor Star

There will be a fourth wave if more people don't get vaccinated

Local health officials write open letter imploring residents to get fully inoculated


“There is virtually zero chance we're going to be able to avoid a fourth wave if our vaccinatio­n rates stall where they are right now,” Windsor Regional Hospital chief of staff Dr. Wassim Saad warned Wednesday.

It doesn't get clearer or more urgent than that.

The warning came as the region's top five doctors, led by medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed, wrote an open letter to the community begging everyone ages 12 and older to get vaccinated.

“This is a critical time in our fight against COVID-19, and if we as a community grow complacent, the risk of further health, social well-being and economic impacts could be grave,” states the letter, also signed by the chiefs of staff at Windsor Regional and Erie Shores Healthcare, Hotel-dieu Grace Healthcare's vice-president of medical affairs and the president of the Essex County Medical Associatio­n.

“Now is the time. Get vaccinated.”

When vaccinatio­n began, Windsor and Essex County got every advantage. We were an infection hot spot, so we received more vaccine and we received it earlier than much of Ontario, and we led the province.

Now we lag behind the province.

Here, 75.6 per cent of eligible people have gotten their first dose. In Ontario, the number is 79.9 per cent.

Here, 65.3 per cent are fully vaccinated. In Ontario, the number is 67.3 per cent.

It takes six weeks to get fully vaccinated. School begins in 51/2 weeks. And only 55.5 per cent of youth ages 12 to 17 have received their first shot. Only 38.1 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Less than half of young adults ages 18 to 29 are fully vaccinated.

In six of the seven hot spot postal codes, the number of people fully vaccinated lags behind the rest of the region. The gap is almost 15 percentage points downtown.

And demand has plateaued. We used to administer 7,000 shots a day. Now it's less than half that.

We've offered mass vaccinatio­n clinics, pop-up clinics, mobile clinics, a clinic at Devonshire Mall. Doctors' offices and pharmacies provide shots. We've offered informatio­n in different languages and free transporta­tion. Youth ages 12 to 17 in hot spots are even being offered a draw for a Chromebook.

But it's not enough.

At first, we didn't have enough vaccine. Now, we don't have enough arms.

Now, some of our vaccine could expire before we can use it — while thousands of people in other countries die because they can't get the vaccine.

We need, at the very least, 80 per cent of eligible people vaccinated, agree Ahmed and Saad.

Ontario's chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore has called for 90 per cent.

“Where we sit right now, it's not close enough,” said Saad.

Think the pandemic is almost over because there are only a handful of new cases here, no one in the hospital and most public health measures have been lifted?

That's what other countries thought. They were wrong.

In the United States, United Kingdom, France, Spain and even Alberta, places with high vaccinatio­n rates, cases are rapidly increasing among people who aren't vaccinated.

These places “thought they had it under control,” said Saad. Now, “the Delta variant is taking hold.”

Even here, since reopening, we're seeing slight increases, from no new cases to two or three new cases a day to four, five or six.

“It is signalling that there will be more cases if people continue to stay unvaccinat­ed,” said Ahmed.

“We have the opportunit­y to learn from these countries,” he said.

But we have to act now. If we don't, we'll miss that opportunit­y.

“Once people start going indoors, there will be further transmissi­on,” Ahmed warned.

He called for mandatory vaccinatio­n for health-care workers, those who care for vulnerable population­s and even those who participat­e in higher risk activities.

“There has to be some kind of benefit that they have to see that they cannot achieve if they are not vaccinated,” he said, citing mandatory vaccinatio­n for indoor dining in restaurant­s in some countries.

“Definitely when it comes to health care or staff engaged with vulnerable population­s that have a high risk of developing complicati­ons if they contract COVID-19,” he said. “It makes sense to have some policy in place that makes it clear that what you're doing is part of taking care of these people who could be at risk. “

Windsor Regional is already working on a new policy similar to that of University Health Network in Toronto, where unvaccinat­ed employees will soon have to test negative for COVID-19 before arriving for work.

“If it's a matter of protecting patient care and making sure that individual­s who are involved in direct patient care are either vaccinated or test negative, it's what would be done for patients in the hospital,” said Saad.

This isn't a leap. Many jurisdicti­ons already do it. The Ontario Medical Associatio­n and Registered Nurses' Associatio­n of Ontario support it. Ahmed knows people who require guests at weddings to be fully vaccinated.

But it shouldn't be left up to each organizati­on, and a patchwork of rules won't work.

“This issue affects everyone,” said Ahmed.

“That's why it makes sense for the government to have an open discussion about it.”

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