Ottawa

Vaccine a step forward down a long tunnel, says Etches

As Ottawa prepares to receive the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, Ottawa Public Health is warning there are still many months ahead before a significant portion of the population is vaccinated.

3K COVID-19 vaccine doses available in Ottawa Tuesday, governments say

Ottawa's medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches visits a school in September. Ottawa expects to receive its first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 15. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

As Ottawa prepares to receive the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) is warning there are still many months ahead before a significant number of residents are vaccinated.

The province announced on Thursday that a "very small number" of doses will soon arrive at health centres in Toronto and Ottawa. Retired general Rick Hillier, who's overseeing Ontario's vaccine rollout, later clarified Thursday Ottawa is receiving 3,000 doses.

Starting Tuesday, The Ottawa Hospital will administer doses to workers in long-term care homes and other high-risk settings.

OPH is working with the homes, hospitals and other health services providers to "ensure people are vaccinated without delay," said Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health.       

The Ottawa Hospital said it's "proud" to be one of the delivery sites of the new vaccine and that it's working with the province on a distribution plan.                                                           

There's a light at the end of the tunnel. But it's still a long tunnel and it will take many, many months before large segments of the population are vaccinated.- Dr. Vera Etches

Etches tempered public expectations in her written statement Thursday, however, noting that while the vaccine's arrival has "turned the page" in the city's COVID-19 story, the book hasn't ended yet.

"Ottawa, there's a light at the end of the tunnel. But it's still a long tunnel and it will take many, many months before large segments of the population are vaccinated," said Etches.

There are still unknowns with regards to the vaccine rollout, she said, from whether Health Canada will approve other contenders in addition to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, to figuring out how to ensure vaccines are kept in the right conditions during distribution. 

Holiday gathering advice

"This year hasn't been easy. But this isn't forever. History has taught us that health crises pass. This one will, too," Etches said.

Until then, Ottawans must continue the now routine COVID-19 protection measures including physical distancing, wearing masks and staying home when sick, she said.

With Hanukkah beginning Thursday and Christmas and Kwanzaa just over two weeks away, Etches reiterated her advice to avoid gatherings over the holidays.

"If you are attending a gathering, wear a mask. Avoid sharing food and drink and keep visits short," she said. "If you are hosting a gathering, make sure you have plenty of hand sanitizer available. Ensure there is proper ventilation — keep doors or windows open if need be. If you can, host a gathering outside."

Buffets and other large family meals should be avoided, said Etches, and it goes without saying that anyone who feels sick should neither attend a gathering nor host one.

"I want to reiterate that everyone needs to assess the risks of gathering with those outside your household. This year, the safest option is to celebrate virtually," Etches said.

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