News Release: Health Unit Reflects on a Year of Community COVID-19 Vaccinations
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For Immediate Release
Wednseday, December 22, 2021 | 4:30 p.m. | Windsor and Essex County
Since the first local case of COVID-19 was detected in March of 2020, residents of Windsor and Essex County (WEC) have looked for a source of optimism and hope toward the end of the pandemic. Today, December 22nd, marks the one year anniversary of the initiation of the single greatest source of hope, the community vaccination effort.
The tireless efforts of the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) staff began well before the first doses were administered twelve months ago. Distribution and inventory systems, medical directives, and operational plans were put in place to ensure that within hours of the first doses being delivered to the health unit, teams of WECHU public health nurses could be deployed to every long-term care and retirement home in the region to administer the vaccine to the most vulnerable members of our community.
Capacity for mass vaccination scaled up locally through strong partnerships with our local hospital systems, post-secondary institutions and municipalities to turn hockey arenas and gymnasiums into medical facilities with space for thousands of residents to pass through and be immunized safely. Beginning with those over the age of 90 and shifting frequently to new age groups and high-risk populations, the temporary sites at the WFCU Centre, Libro Centre, Nature Fresh Farms Recreation Centre, St. Clair College Sportsplex, and University of Windsor downtown campus hosted the majority of the over 340,000 residents who have been vaccinated to date. In reflecting on the success of these mass clinics, health unit Director of Health Protection, Kristy McBeth acknowledged the importance of these partnerships and says, “These agencies answered the call when we needed them most. Without the staffing, coordination, and space provided by municipal, post-secondary, and hospital partners like Windsor Regional Hospital, this region would not have anywhere near the level of vaccination coverage that we have been able to reach to date.”
Beyond the mass vaccination sites, realignment of other parts of the healthcare system was needed. Relationships were established with the Community Response and Stabilization Team, a partnership between Erie Shores HealthCare and Essex-Windsor, to provide vaccinations in targeted neighbourhoods through mobile strategies and pop-up clinics. The recruitment of neighbourhood ambassadors hired by the Canadian Mental Health Association – Windsor-Essex Branch ensured these clinics were well attended. In addition, through an agreement with the City of Windsor, the health unit converted city buses into mobile vaccination sites that could move to all corners of the City and County to target underserved communities identified by its team of epidemiologists. Local family health teams and the Windsor-Essex Community Health Centre reallocated staff and shifted operations early on to provide access to their clients. As a compliment to mass vaccination sites, pharmacies, and other primary health care offices, these smaller scale settings have been an integral part of the strategy to provide vaccinations in accessible, unintimidating, and familiar environments.
“While in the midst of another period of uncertainty caused by the emergence of the Omicron variant, the value of the continued vaccination effort cannot be overstated,” says health unit Chief Executive Officer Nicole Dupuis. “The vaccines administered to date have undoubtedly saved countless lives and I could not be more proud of the ongoing hard work and sacrifice of our team at the WECHU for their leadership and contributions to this unprecedented undertaking.”
A year later, vaccines continue to be the best source of protection to prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and the spread of COVID-19. “We need to keep our foot on the gas and get first, second and third doses into arms as soon as possible,” says Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Shanker Nesathurai. “Thank you to those who have made the choice to get vaccinated, and thank you especially to those who were hesitant and chose to get the vaccine for the sake of their loved ones and the overall community. A debt of gratitude is owed to each of you on behalf of the vulnerable people you’ve helped to protect.”
Reflective of the continued prioritization of booster doses and community wide vaccine administration, the WECHU announced today that we will be reopening the Nature Fresh Farms Recreation Centre as a mass vaccination site with an additional West Windsor location to be announced in the coming days. These sites add to the capacity already in place through the Devonshire Mall mass vaccination clinic, ongoing pop up and mobile clinics, pharmacies and primary health care provider offices.
Those interested in booking an appointment can visit the health unit’s website (www.wechu.org) or call 226-773-2200 for information on mass vaccination clinics, participating pharmacies, healthcare providers, and community pop-up vaccination clinics.