Original Published on Jul 29, 2022 at 07:00

By Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

GREY-BRUCE – There has been a lot of discussion recently about whether it’s better to get a third or fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine now, or hold off until a vaccine with specific protection from the Omicron BA.5 variant is available, probably this fall.

The matter came up for discussion at the July 22 meeting of the Grey Bruce Public Health board of directors. Brian Milne asked whether or not people should wait for their booster shot. The answer from Dr. Ian Arra, medical officer of health (MOH), was succinct. 

“Half-protection today is better than full protection tomorrow,” said Arra. “My advice is people should stay up to date with their vaccinations.” 

He added that should someone get a third or fourth shot this summer, and a vaccine specifically for Omicron BA.5 becomes available in the fall, they would still be eligible for it.

COVID-19 vaccinations are available from family physicians, pharmacies and public health, and are now permitted for very young children (details on the health unit’s website). Vaccinations have been the focus of the Grey Bruce Health Unit’s campaign against the coronavirus in recent months.

In his report to the board on the COVID-19 situation, Arra used data from the province for the two-week period of July 4 to 17 to show that Ontario has one of the lowest levels of COVID in the country and internationally, although numbers are increasing. Health units in Ontario have similar levels of COVID, but Grey-Bruce is the lowest in the province. Most, including Grey-Bruce, show an increase in numbers.

The data for the time period July 4-17 showed no outbreaks in Grey-Bruce; there are three at present, all in long-term care. However, the data also shows that “the bulk of the transmissions is in the 18-to-55 age group,” Arra said.

Arra characterized the three current outbreaks as “minor” in that most people affected are asymptomatic or recover well. Deaths from COVID have actually fallen in Ontario.

Arra said there’s no need to “change our course” in the way we’re handling COVID at this point. The MOH added that a surge in cases is anticipated in the fall.

He said that the health-care system is nevertheless “overwhelmed” for a variety of reasons, including people retiring.

Helen-Claire Tingling commented that “there is anxiety in the community that’s being enflamed by incomplete … information.” People are told about outbreaks in the community, but not about how serious they are. Hearing Arra speak about the health-care system “being under threat,” she said “the idea is it’s all because of COVID,” and it is not. She said that while communication from the local health unit is excellent, there is a problem across the province with the way public health information is relayed.

Dr. Rim Zayed, public health physician specialist, provided the board with an update on the opioid situation – primarily, the COMOH (Council of Ontario Medical Officers of Health) working group that’s been developed. It’s chaired by the Simcoe Muskoka Health Unit.

She outlined the nine priorities for the group, noting that three of the nine – “to expand access to harm reduction programs and practices, enhance and ensure sustainability of support for substance use prevention,” and expand data collection, form the basis of a subcommittee co-chaired by Grey-Bruce Public Health and Public Health Ontario. The subcommittee has nine members, including a mix of both rural and urban health units.

The objectives of the subcommittee include interventions that mitigate adverse childhood experiences, said Zayed. 

Among the goals of the group is “considering a grant proposal for conceptual framework” – work on this particular goal is already underway, although the subcommittee hasn’t met yet, she said.

There was considerable interest expressed among board members on the “adverse childhood experiences” that put a person at higher risk for substance abuse.

This item reprinted with permission from The Herald Times, Walkerton, Ontario