By: Mike Anderson

Christmas came early for Robin Dowdall, a personal support worker (PSW) at the River Glen Haven Nursing Home in Sutton.

On December 23, Ms. Dowdall was the first person to receive the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine at Southlake’s Covid-19 vaccination clinic.

“I’m excited to be getting this vaccine. We’ve been waiting for it,” said Ms. Dowdall, who was one of 80 long-term care workers vaccinated on the clinic’s first day.

“We’re a compassionate, caring team at River Glen Haven, and we’ve been doing everything we can to keep COVID out of the home. By getting the vaccine today, I’m protecting residents at the home, as well as my family, until they can get vaccinated themselves.”

According to Southlake, the vaccination clinic, located in the hospital’s seniors centre, will initially focus on priority groups identified by the province, including staff working in long-term care homes, designated family caregivers of long-term care residents and hospital staff.

But, while numerous staff at Southlake and LTC homes in northern York Region have been vaccinated since December 23, only a handful of designated family caregivers have received the vaccine so far.

At River Glen Haven, according to Jordan Kannampuzha, ATK Care’s Chief Operating Officer, more than a dozen staff have been vaccinated at Southlake, but, as of December 29, no essential caregivers had received a shot.

While Mr. Kannampuzha acknowledges that all essential caregivers at RGH are eligible for the vaccine, he said that he had been forced to prioritize who gets the shot as there is a “very limited” supply available at Southlake.

“With the extremely limited supply of vaccine, RGH is taking a strategic risk mitigation approach, as the focus is protecting the most vulnerable population, which is our residents,” Mr. Kannampuzha said in an email to The Post.

“As residents are unable to get the vaccine due to the logistical nature that the Pfizer vaccine can only be administered at hospitals, our primary focus with the current limited supply is our frontline staff who are with our residents every day.”

However, Mr. Kannampuzha is “extremely happy” that caregivers have been included as a priority group by the province, and is hopeful that eventually essential caregivers at RGH will receive the vaccine.

“I appreciate the patience both our staff and caregivers are showing at this time, and I am hopeful that the roll-out will ramp up in the next few weeks so everyone eligible will have the opportunity to get vaccinated.”

At Cedarvale Lodge in Keswick, a combination LTC home and retirement community operated by Sienna Senior Living, things are marginally better.

While 23 team members have been vaccinated at Southlake, only three essential caregivers have received the shot as of December 30.

“We continue to work with Southlake in rolling out this program to team members and essential caregivers and look forward to it being available to residents in the near future,” said Nadia Daniell-Colarossi, a spokesperson for Sienna Senior Living

Part of the problem is the vaccine itself. The Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine must be stored at extremely cold temperatures below -70 celsius, which prevents it from being transported directly to LTC homes.

But another issue is the scheduling process for vaccinations, which creates potential bottlenecks by placing the onus on LTC homes to identify who gets a shot, as LTC workers and essential caregivers can not contact the clinic directly.

“The clinic is working directly with the home’s administrators to schedule vaccinations,” said Matt Haggerty, a spokesperson for Southlake.

“Appointments are allocated to homes and they fill the appointments based on their prioritization for staff and designated caregivers. Designated caregivers who wish to receive the vaccine should let their long-term care home know.”

Despite the recent hiccups, which included a controversial holiday shutdown, Mr. Haggerty is confident that the clinic will ramp-up in the coming weeks and more essential caregivers will be able to be vaccinated.

Another potential game changer will be the arrival of the Moderna vaccine, which does not have the same storage restrictions and can be distributed directly to LTC homes, allowing residents and caregivers to be vaccinated on site.

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