Vaccines prevented nearly 4,000 COVID-19 cases in Waterloo Region since December, top doctor says

COVID-19 vaccinations prevented nearly 4,000 infections in Waterloo Regions since doses were first offered to residents in December, the area's top doctor says.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said between Dec. 22, 2020 and Sept. 4, 2021, vaccines are estimated to have prevented 3,935 cases, 548 hospitalizations, and 82 deaths among residents 18 and older living in the region.

She added that the rate of COVID-19 is nine times higher in unvaccinated people than in vaccinated people in Waterloo Region. Provincially, people who haven't received a COVID-19 vaccine are 23 times more likely to require hospitalization and 43 times more likely to need care in an intensive care unit.

"We need to continue increasing our vaccination rates, as well as continuing our basic public health precautions," Dr. Wang said at the region's COVID-19 briefing on Friday morning.

She said the region has seen a slow increase in the number of daily cases, and the weekly incidence rate now sits at 27 cases per 100,000 people.

"As contacts between people are expected to increase in this month, the Delta variant risks spreading rapidly," Dr. Wang said.

PRECAUTIONS IMPORTANT FOR FULLY VACCINATED PEOPLE

Receiving two doses of a vaccine is the strongest layer of protection people can take against COVID-19, but Dr. Wang said it's still important for fully vaccinated people to continue following public health measures.

"One of the trends we're noticing in our case and contact management is that fully vaccinated individuals are no longer taking public health precautions and getting infected," Dr. Wang said.

She said health officials have seen an increase in large gatherings where people aren't masking or distancing from others.

"It is important that everyone understand vaccination, while it is the most powerful layer of protection we can add in our fight against COVID-19, it cannot be the only tool we rely on to get us through the fourth wave."

VACCINATION RATES STABLE IN REGION

Dept. Chief Shirley Hilton, who is leading the region's vaccination task force, said rates continue to rise in Waterloo Region. More than 87 per cent of eligible residents have received at least one vaccine dose, and 80 per cent of people 12 and older are now fully vaccinated.

According to Dr. Wang, around 66,000 people are eligible for a vaccine and haven't received one yet.

Hilton said they've seen increased vaccination rates since the province announced plans for a vaccination passport coming into effect later this month.

At the beginning of August, around 15 per cent of shots were first doses. Hilton said that increased to about 32 per cent doses in the middle of August, and currently around 40 per cent of shots are first doses in the region.

"It does show that even prior to the provincial announcement with mandatory vaccinations, the team was doing an incredible job at outreach and ensuring that we did have vaccines accessible in Waterloo Region," Hilton said.

First and second doses are available for walk-ins at regional clinics, and the vaccine bus continues to offer shots to community members.

Staff have also administered 1,391 third doses to eligible residents with certain health conditions or those living in at-risk congregate care settings.

INCREASING TESTING CAPACITY

Testing centres in the region are gearing up in anticipation of more testing demand as students return to the classroom.

Lee Fairclough, president of St. Mary's General Hospital, said the sites are prepared to expand hours if needed.

"We really want to encourage people that, if you do have symptoms, to please go and get a test," she said during Friday's COVID-19 update.

Fairclough added it's important for anyone who has symptoms to get tested, even if they are fully vaccinated.

"We certainly know that there's a higher proportion of those who are testing positive for COVID that are unvaccinated, but we are still seeing it among those that are vaccinated in a smaller number," she said.