Health unit sticking with mass vaccination clinic at Coliseum

More flexible approach will allow it to vacate premises during major events like CLE’s summer fair, but need for mass vaccination continues, health unit says.

THUNDER BAY – Thunder Bay’s health unit says it will continue using the Coliseum at the CLE Grounds as a mass vaccination clinic for the foreseeable future, with fourth doses rolling out and the possibility of further booster campaigns heading into the fall.  

However, the agency is planning for a more flexible approach that will allow it to temporarily vacate the premises for the CLE’s annual fair in August and other weekend events, and looking to hold more mobile vaccine clinics throughout the community.

It’s an arrangement the CLE has said will allow major events to go forward while continuing to offer the benefits of a centrally-located vaccine clinic in a large building.

While vaccine uptake has been dropping, and fewer than half of those under 40 have so far gotten a booster dose locally, Thunder Bay’s medical officer of health Dr. Janet DeMille doesn’t see the need for mass immunization going away anytime soon.

She highlighted the importance of fourth doses, particularly for those 70 and older, and noted others including those 60 and older, Indigenous people over 18, and those at higher risk of severe illness were recently made eligible.

“We’re very busy at the Coliseum now, and we can actually see more people” with fourth dose eligibility expanded to, she said. “We’re certainly encouraging people to come forward for the fourth dose.”

DeMille said the CLE has been very accommodating in allowing the health unit to rent the Coliseum building, but with public health restrictions lifting and major events returning, realizes the arrangement will need to become more flexible.

 “We recognize that the CLE facilities are used by other groups, and we have been taking up those facilities, especially the Coliseum, for a while now,” she said. “We do want to free that building up for other community events that are so important for our community.”

Heading into the fall, the TBDHU will offer more mobile clinics to reach those who haven’t yet made their way to the Coliseum, where appointments and walk-ins are widely available for everything from first to fourth doses.

Walk-in appointments are offered Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Hours on Good Friday will be limited to 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

CLE president Al Law said the organization has been happy to support local immunization efforts and hasn’t been hurt financially by the arrangement, but is eager to welcome back major events like the annual fair, which uses the Coliseum building.

This year’s fair, planned from Aug. 10 to 14, will be the first held in three years.

DeMille said the health unit’s continued need for a mass immunization clinic shows vaccines continue to be the best tool in getting the community through the pandemic. Despite their lower effectiveness in preventing infection against Omicron, they continue to prevent cases of serious illness and deaths, she underlined.

“Vaccines will always be a part of managing the pandemic, whether it’s booster doses when there’s a wave, or when there’s evidence of waning immunity,” she said.

While many public health restrictions have lifted, DeMille said the public health battle against COVID-19 definitely continues, including through continued vaccination.

“It’s not over,” she said. “It’s still here. It’ll always be with us, but there’s ways of managing it. When we compare what we’re able to do now compared to two years ago, we have made that difference. Our collective immunity – for most people it’s through the vaccine, but some people have also had it through getting infected, or a combination of both – has really brought us to a point where we can as much as possible live normally with this, with some measures in place.”

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