Ontario’s top doctor has issued a plea to seniors to get their COVID-19 shot after hearing reports of unvaccinated seniors needlessly dying in the province’s hospitals.
Dr. David Williams said at a news conference Monday that most new patients going into the ICU are either completely unvaccinated or became ill in the first few days following vaccination — before building up any immunity.
“It still surprises me that we have 70 and 80-year-olds in the hospital, and sometimes passing away, and finding out they were not vaccinated,” he said. “In my mind, those were preventable deaths.”
Adults over 80 and over 70 have been prioritized to get a COVID-19 vaccine first since the start of the immunization campaign this winter. But Williams is disappointed that some seniors still haven’t got their first shot even though they’ve been eligible for months.
When Ontario officials shared the latest COVID-19 modelling data this week, they pointed to a concerning discrepancy in vaccination rates between seniors in high-risk and low-risk neighbourhoods.
Nearly 90% of seniors in low-risk neighbourhoods have their first dose, but only 76% of seniors in high-risk neighbourhoods do.
Dr. Steini Brown, the co-chair of the COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, suggested the lagging vaccination rates for seniors in high-risk areas could suggest more community-specific approaches are needed.
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There are currently 384 people in Ontario’s hospitals due to COVID-19 infection, and 409 people are in intensive care units. Some of the ICU patients are from Manitoba and have been temporarily transferred to Ontario because ICUs in their home province are full.
The average stay in Ontario’s ICUs has increased to 29.1 days, suggesting some individuals are spending weeks fighting for their lives, Williams said.
Circulation of the more contagious and more severe Delta variant is also growing, making it even more important for elderly adults to get a shot. One dose of an mRNA vaccine provides somewhere between 33% and 48% protection against infection with the Delta variant, and that’s bumped up to nearly 90% with two doses.
Two doses of AstraZeneca provide 60% to 70% protection against infection with the Delta variant, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, associate medical officer of health, said Monday.
Williams has seen “very, very few” hospital admissions who have had two vaccine doses. He cautioned seniors that they’re at an elevated risk for complications from the virus — and vaccination can offer significant protection.
“If you know a family member or a loved one who is unsure, they really are taking chances — and unfortunately very risky ones,” he said. “It is indeed very sad, because their outcome [from a COVID-19 infection] is not going to be that good.”