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Weekend vaccinations at the Gardens ‘step in the right direction,’ Sault doctor says (6 photos)

Immunization clinic is by appointment only for long term care workers; general public to follow later

Beginning today and continuing through Saturday and Sunday, a team of local healthcare professionals will be holding the Sault’s first ‘big venue’ vaccination clinic at GFL Memorial Gardens.

We would all prefer to file in to the Gardens to enjoy a Soo Greyhounds game or take in a concert, but in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, the clinic is long awaited and welcome, said one local doctor.

“It feels pretty exciting,” said Dr. Jodie Stewart, Algoma District Medical Group (ADMG) chair/CEO and Group Health Centre (GHC) family physician.

Stewart, like every other healthcare professional in the Sault and area – and indeed, across the globe – has witnessed the fear among their patients and received many questions since the COVID-19 story began.

“It’s nice to be moving in a positive direction. We’ve had an outpouring of support from people who want to be involved as vaccinators and I think that speaks to forward thinking from our medical community and a good commitment to get this work done for the safety of our community,” Stewart said, speaking to SooToday Thursday.

“I think there’s lots of people who are very eager to get the vaccine. There are a lot of questions about the vaccine. We’ve been fielding a lot of phone calls in our office from people who want to be sure they’re okay to get the vaccine. If people are feeling hesitant then I would encourage them to reach out for more information.”

COVID-19’s economic impact has wrecked economies and lives, a countless number of people having lost their jobs, businesses or experienced temporary layoffs due to pandemic restrictions.

As a doctor charged with caring for the physical and mental health of patients, this first round of mass immunization clinics is a promising sign, Stewart said.

“Definitely we’ve seen an increase in mental health concerns within our patients in our community. I think that has been well documented across most places at present and I think there is a feeling, hopefully, that once everyone is vaccinated that we can resume, to some degree, some normalcy.”

For now, the March 5-7 vaccination clinic at the Gardens, it should be noted, is by appointment only and exclusively for staff and essential caregivers at long term care facilities.

These people have already been contacted and have booked appointments, Stewart emphasized.

Approximately 1,300 such individuals (from Sault Ste. Marie only, not outlying areas) will be vaccinated by approximately 45 physicians, nurses, midwives, paramedics, and other health professionals from a number of organizations across the community.

It’s not a drop-in vaccination clinic for the general public.

“We will be back next weekend. The vision is that as we get more vaccine in the community that we will expand the days and hours of the clinics to offer it to the next priority group that’s been identified,” Stewart said.

Those groups include adults 80 years of age and over, priority healthcare workers, Indigenous adults and other provincial priority groups before getting to the general population of Sault Ste. Marie in keeping with Ontario Ministry of Health guidelines.

Vaccination for the general public, officials have said, will be voluntary.     

So far, long term care home residents in the Sault and area, the rest of Ontario and across Canada have been receiving the vaccine.

Local healthcare professionals will be administering the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine this weekend, Stewart said (other vaccines from other pharmaceutical giants having been granted approval for use in Canada by the federal government).

Side effects from vaccines have been reported worldwide, though doctors say adverse reactions are rare.

“If people want more information and are concerned they should refer to the information on the Algoma Public Health website as well as talk to their family doctor. For anyone in the community who is pregnant or is on immune suppressing medication, they must speak to their healthcare providers before proceeding with vaccination,” Stewart said.  

Side effects that have been reported included tiredness, headache, muscle soreness, swelling, chills and fever.

Stewart’s role within the local vaccination crusade, she said, is to “provide physician input to the development of the (vaccination) clinic as well as involving physicians as immunizers at the clinic and ensuring that the residents of Sault Ste. Marie have access to vaccine in a coordinated, safe manner.”

Billed as the ‘COVID-19 Community Vaccine Hub,’ the March 5-7 immunization clinic at GFL Memorial Gardens has been organized by the Algoma Ontario Health Team (AOHT), which includes:

  • Algoma District Medical Group
  • Algoma Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinic
  • Algoma Public Health
  • Algoma Residential Community Hospice (ARCH)
  • City of Sault Ste. Marie
  • Group Health Centre
  • Midwives of Algoma
  • Northern Ontario School of Medicine
  • Sault Area Hospital
  • Sault Ste. Marie Paramedic Services
  • Superior Family Health Team