“There’s certainly light at the end of the tunnel,” the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s (SMDHU) Medical Officer of Health Dr. Charles Gardner said during his Tuesday briefing.

While appointments at vaccination clinics in Simcoe Muskoka are booked through March 16th, Dr. Gardner said all 13 community clinics have been started in SMDHU’s medical region – which includes the ones set-up at the Bracebridge Sportplex and the Active Living Centre in Huntsville.

He noted that there has been “essentially” no waste when it comes to vaccines. Dr. Gardner said that because the Health Unit has a waist list in place, it allows them to call on the next person in line if someone misses their vaccination appointment.

Starting March 15th, Ontarians over 80 will be able to book a vaccination appointment through the portal set-up by the province. Dr. Gardner said SMDHU will transition their system to the province’s centralized booking system next week. Currently, residents over 85 are eligible to get vaccinated in our region, which Dr. Gardner said was done to alleviate the pressure that would have been put on local health officials if they opened up vaccination appointments to everyone over 80 right away. He said there are over 30,000 residents in the Health Unit’s medical region.

With the AstraZeneca vaccine now approved in Canada, Dr. Gardner said it makes life easier for health officials due to the newly approved vaccine being easier to store and administer. He said he anticipates more vaccine doses will be sent to our region in two weeks. Dr. Gardner did not provide details on how many doses will be coming. The Health Unit has been using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine since it became available locally. 

Dr. Gardner noted that Simcoe Muskoka is considered a “hot spot” by the provincial government, so more vaccines will be sent to our region in comparison to other parts of Ontario.

He said that our region will be part of a pilot project for the AstraZeneca vaccine. Dr. Gardner said locally we will be getting some doses of the vaccine. When it was approved in late February by Health Canada, it was reported that the vaccine can only be used on people 65 and under. 

On the bright side, Dr. Gardner said the AstraZeneca vaccine is the easiest to handle of the ones approved so far. He said Moderna’s vaccine is also easier to handle than the Pfizer vaccine. He didn’t say what it’s like to handle the Johnson & Johnson vaccine but did say he expects it to be approved by April.

He said he “remains optimistic” about the progress that will be made leading up to the summer. “I feel confident that later in the year we will be in a much better, safer, happier, and healthier place,” Dr. Gardner said.