Public Health bracing for influx of COVID-19, flu cases over holidays as vaccine rates dip

Needles sit next to bottles of fluid on a blue-hued background.
Vaccine rates are low, and local public health officials say COVID and flu rates could be high. Photo by Canva.
Riley Gillespie-Wilson - CICW - FergusON | 06-12-2023
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Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health officials are expecting respiratory illness numbers to be on the rise over the holidays this year.

Rita Isley, chief nursing officer at WDG Public Health, says figures for COVID-19 and influenza cases have both been on upward trends in recent months. Isley says with people gathering more around the holidays, these numbers are projected to rise further.

She added vaccine rates on the other hand, have been gradually lowering since the worst period of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Our vaccine rates this year are much lower than when we were in the heat of the pandemic. At the peak of the pandemic, we were seeing rates higher than 88 per cent. Now we're seeing our rates are closer to about 35 per cent, which is relatively close to where we were pre-pandemic for influenza," Isley stated.

"So, between 20 and 36 per cent right now," she added.

Over 90 per cent of 60 to 79-year-olds were vaccinated in the region in 2020-21. Currently, only 35.3 per cent are up to date. Isley added she does believe the concept of "vaccine fatigue" is relevant within the community.

"It's sort of like we're levelling out. I still think vaccine fatigue has a hand or a role to play in this, but, I am also thinking that people are less concerned than they were during the pandemic," Isley said.

She also mentioned specific sections of the population have been more hesitant around vaccines.

"I think there's less interest in the younger population for COVID vaccines unless they work in an area or have family who are more at risk. We're also seeing that some of our individuals over the age of 65 are not getting their vaccine at the same rate as they were prior to the pandemic," Isley explained.

Nearly half (11 of 29) of flu cases this year to date took place the week of Nov. 26 to Dec. 2. There have been 1,345 days spent in hospital due to COVID-19 in 2023-24 so far, as opposed to 4,487 in 22-23.’

Isley stated she doesn’t think vaccine numbers will be close to where they were peak pandemic this holiday season. She notes that community members can go to a variety of locations within the region to get a vaccine, such as public health, a pharmacy or family physician.

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