The North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit does not yet know when it will receive its first shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine but says it is prepared when they do come. 

That from Dr. Jim Chirico, Medical Officer of Health, who says the local vaccine rollout will follow the same guidelines seen in the rest of the province. 

“Long term care homes and retirement homes are at the top of the list. The Health Unit has been working with our community partners and have a plan in place to have immunizations,” Dr. Chirico said during a media conference. “At this time, the vaccine is not available to our district.”

Last week, Premier Doug Ford pleaded to the federal government to supply Ontario with more of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, as its first shipments were set to run out by week’s end. Ford said a subsequent shipment will run dry this week. 

“The quicker we get these vaccines into people’s arms the safer we’ll be,” Ford said. 

Dr. Chirico said that he does not yet know when the region will get its first vaccines. 

“Once we know when the vaccine is available locally, we will let the public know and will begin immediately,” he said. “We have to be patient.”

As COVID-19 cases have risen both locally and provincially causing ICUs to fill up in the southern parts of the province, Dr. Chirico addressed the possibility that southern Ontario patients may be shipped to the north where there are more available beds. 

Dr. Chirico said as far as he knew, patients were getting sent as far north as Barrie. 

“That limit could be revised if the number of patients requiring ICU beds continues to grow,” he said, adding it’s up to the community to prepare for that possibility. “We must do our part to reduce the burden on hospitals.”

Since 2021 began, the Health Unit has seen 45 new cases of COVID-19, making up 25 percent of the region’s total case count. 

As the northern parts of the province are now shut down until January 23, Dr. Chirico says it is imperative to take the measures seriously. 

“If we don’t act now and reverse the trend, it is likely the shutdown will be extended even further and possibly, with more restrictions,” he cautioned. 

As for the reason cases have risen locally, Dr. Chirico chalks it up to people bending the rules. 

“I am worried that people are not following the rules and that people are looking for loopholes,” he said. “When you look for loopholes, you’re making the decision to find ways not to stay home and keep your distance. This increases the risk to yourself and others and especially, your loved ones.”

Dr. Chirico adds he is not ruling out implementing local measures to curb the spread of the virus. 

“If we continue to see an increase in the number of individuals testing positive in our region, I will have to look at all available options to slow the spread of COVID-19 locally,” he warned.