London

She turns 100 today, but will have to wait for her COVID-19 vaccine

The Middlesex-London Health Unit says it's working on ways to vaccinate London seniors who weren't vaccinated in recent mobile clinics at group homes and who can't travel to one of the city's three mass vaccination clinics.

Mobility and health challenges mean Ursula Miller can't go to a vaccination clinic

Ursula Miller turns 100 today, making her more than eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine among the group, aged 80 and above, being offered shots now. The problem is her health and mobility challenges make it impossible for her to navigate a vaccination clinic and London's health unit is not yet set up to offer home-visit vaccinations. (Submitted by Kay Dubitsky)

For her 100th birthday, Ursula Miller's family would love to get her a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Unfortunately, Miller, who becomes a centenarian today, will have to wait a little longer to get her shot. 

Although by age she qualifies to get a vaccine, with 20 years to spare, Miller has complex health and mobility challenges that don't allow her to visit one of London's three vaccination clinics. 

"I don't know how she could get her vaccine," said Miller's daughter, Kay Dubitsky. "She doesn't go out of her apartment."

Miller lives on her own in a London co-op building. She has nearly around-the-clock care from personal support workers, but not all of them have been vaccinated. While she uses a walker, any distance beyond about 10 steps is too much for her, even with help. 

"She would have to walk, get into an elevator. It's just not a good thing for her," said Dubitsky. "It just wouldn't work."

What would work, at least in principle, is having a health-care worker come to Miller's apartment to vaccinate her. 

By mid-February, the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) had vaccinated most seniors living in group care homes through the use of mobile clinics.

And while home-visit vaccinations are planned, they're not up and running yet.

Question of logistics

Dr. Chris Mackie, the London region's medical officer of health, said the plan is to use existing care providers to vaccinate seniors in their homes. 

"The next step will be to set up a system where we can have home-care staff, primary care providers, family physicians, going into the homes of those people who can't make it to clinics," he said. 

Part of the challenge is logistics. Mackie said in the streamlined setting of large vaccination clinics, a single staff member can give a shot every four to eight minutes.

Home-visit vaccinations slow the process down to about one injection each hour after travel time is factored in. Vaccinators also have to stay at least 15 minutes after the shot is administered to ensure the client doesn't have an allergic reaction. 

The Middlesex-London Health Unit says they are working on plans to vaccinate seniors at home who don't live in group homes and who have mobility and health challenges that make it difficult for them to navigate vaccination clinics. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

While Windsor-Essex's health unit has been vaccinating vulnerable seniors in their homes since last week, Mackie said that's because they have access to the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine as one of three Ontario health units taking part in a pilot project to vaccinate at pharmacies

Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which MLHU is currently using, must be used quickly after they're removed from ultra-cold freezers and opened up. Each vial has six to 10 doses. Using those vaccines for home visits would result in wasted doses, Mackie said.

"You've got to use those doses all at once," said Mackie. "You can't move it any further, so, really, you'd be opening a vial and wasting most of it if you use those vaccines." 

Mackie said seniors who can't get to a vaccination clinic or who aren't being vaccinated in mobile clinics set up at group settings, have not been forgotten. 

"The campaign we have now will help protect people like Mrs. Miller," he said. "The mass vaccination approach will help end this pandemic and that's what will protect all of us."

Mackie said getting access to the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, which has less stringent storage protocols, will remove some of those barriers and make it easier to vaccinate seniors in their homes.

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