“All Hands On Deck” Vaccination, Omicron Update, and Other COVID-19 Resources

December 17, 2021

Dear Members,

It’s been hard and everyone is exhausted. We know what a toll the last 21 months have taken and this week in particular - with the rapid increase of cases due to the Omicron variant - has not been easy. The modeling presented by the Ontario Science Advisory Table yesterday shows that without prompt intervention, ICU occupancy could reach unsustainable levels in early January. Although vaccines are less effective against the Omicron variant, boosters (third shots) can substantially increase protection.

Teams pivoted and answered the call by the Chief Medical Officer to prioritize vaccination in the ‘all hands-on deck’ request that was made earlier this week. Thank you to everyone who took a moment to fill in our survey over the last few days about this. We remain in awe of the amazing work you do every day, especially when faced with such uncertainty, short timelines, and limited resources.

For teams who are struggling with getting vaccines or wanting to participate in your public health vaccine clinics but do not know where to get assistance, the Ministry has provided a list of the PHU operational contacts who you can connect with.

We’d like to provide some information that you may find helpful as you continue to fight this pandemic, during this especially challenging time.

Ministry of Health guidance documents
With the Omicron surge, the Ministry has issued COVID-19 Case, Contact and Outbreak Management Interim Guidance which they continue to update as more about the variant is learned. Just a reminder that any updates to the Ministry Guidance Documents can be found here.

Updated IPAC recommendations and access to Rapid Antigen Tests
On December 15, Public Health Ontario issued an Interim IPAC Recommendations for Use of Personal Protective Equipment for Care of Individuals with Suspect or Confirmed COVID 19 which provides a summary of PPE recommendations.

Given the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, there is a recommendation to move to fit-tested, seal-checked N95 masks or, if not available, well-fitted medical mask or non-fit test N95. Other recommendations around PPE in ambulatory settings can also be found in the document.  As usual, work with your current supplier to see if you can access the relevant PPE but if you cannot, you can order Critical Personal Protective Equipment through the Ontario Health website.  

This same website also allows you to order rapid point-of-care kits for you and your staff. On December 16, the Ministry posted an updated COVID-19 Guidance: Considerations for Antigen Point-of-Care Testing which now includes:

  • Information on antigen POCT may be used for individuals who are fully vaccinated as well as individuals who are not fully vaccinated
  • Information for household members of individuals who have tested positive

OCFP Community of Practice – The latest on Omicron and what it means for your practice
On December 17, the OCFP, with the DFCM at the University of Toronto, held its Community of Practice.  Dr. Peter Juni provided a sobering update on the impact that the Omicron variant will have on our healthcare system if additional public health measures are not taken. The session was timely and below are some informative resources from it:

Medical and clinical trial exemptions
Effective December 15, Ontarians with exemptions for medical reasons or who are participants in COVID related clinical trials will be eligible to download an enhanced vaccine certificate (with a QR code) from the Ontario Portal. This QR code, when scanned by the Verify Ontario app and supported by ID, will allow patrons access to settings requiring proof of vaccination. Medical notes issued by out-of-province physicians will not be considered eligible for Ontario residents to receive a QR code.

The Ministry has developed a guidance document Medical and Clinical Trial Exemptions: Guidance for Issuing and Entering Records into COVaxON and a Sample Statement of Medical Exemption for COVID-19 Immunization that you can use.

Mobile Vaccine Clinics
The Chamber of Commerce and Ontario’s Vaccine Support Council have been working to stand up a number of mobile vaccine clinics in the short term – many of you may have seen this in earlier waves with the contributions of Fleets Coffee. Here are some possible supports that they can provide to you and your community:

  • Fixed Pop-Ups: they can send a truck to designated locations for a designated period. People could use their app to book a time and can align the time slots to the capacity of vaccinators available.
  • Delivery: they can do the same with delivery, where anyone in a geofenced area can use their app to order a “mobile vaccine clinic to their location.” Could be large businesses, schools, churches, apartment buildings, etc. The truck would be deployed, do the vaccinating, and then move on to the next location.

If you would like to learn more or if you have questions, please contact Kirk Tobias at kirk.tobias@fleetscoffee.com.

Release of OHT-PHU COVID-19 Vaccine Resource Document
Today the OHT Branch at the Ministry released the OHT-PHU COVID-19 Vaccine Planning and Implementation Casebook: Notes from the Field  covering memo that went to all OHTs and a casebook deck that was shared on some of the learnings from the OHTs.

New restrictions announced today
Today, December 17, the Premier announced that Ontario will further strengthen the response to Omicron. Here are some of the measures that will be taken:

  • A 50% capacity limit will be put on most indoor public settings
  • Food and drink services will be prohibited at sporting events, cinemas, and certain other large gatherings, for masks to remain on at all times
  • Social gathering limits will be 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors

This comes into effect at 12:01 AM this Sunday, December 19. The news release can be read here.

In addition to the provincial measures, the federal government has strongly advised against international travel, which, while safe, does impact holiday and family plans.

This is not an easy time. We know how hard you are all working, and we know how difficult these restrictions will be on many who were looking forward to larger gatherings for the holidays, or who had travel planned and are now needing to reconsider it for personal and public safety.

We have all been through a difficult 21 months and after weeks like this past one, it can feel especially hard. But we can remain optimistic that the work everyone is doing to prevent the spread of this virus and to administer and receive vaccinations is one way to help us get through this.

Our sincere thank you to all of you for what you do every single day. We hope you can enjoy some rest and time with your close family in the coming weeks.

If you have any questions or need additional support that we can provide, please email us at info@afhto.ca. Our office will be closed the week of December 27, but we will be checking and responding to time-sensitive emails.

Yours in good health,
The AFHTO Team