St. Catharines hospital to be site for Niagara’s first COVID-19 vaccinations

St. Catharines hospital to be site for Niagara’s first COVID-19 vaccinations

When the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine arrive in Niagara, the first shots will be given at St. Catharines hospital, the St. Catharines Standard has learned.

A joint Niagara Health and Niagara Region Public Health task force, which is working out logistics of the first wave of local inoculations against the potentially lethal novel coronavirus, has determined the Garden City hospital will be where the local pushback against the pandemic will begin.

“We’re expecting a few thousand doses will arrive in Niagara,” said Dr. Mustafa Hirji, Niagara’s acting medical officer of health. “The St. Catharines hospital is where people will have to come to get those shots.”

It is not clear when Niagara will receive its first batch the Pfizer vaccine — the only vaccine currently approved for use in Canada. The provincial government has prioritized shipments to regions in the red zone or under lockdown orders. Additionally, the vaccine will be used first to protect people most at risk from COVID-19 — the residents of long-term care homes.

Hirji said given the limited supply of vaccine doses, protecting the most vulnerable people first makes sense. As vaccine supplies increase, more Canadians can get their shots, with the federal government aiming to have all citizens who want the vaccine to have it by September.

The Pfizer vaccine’s supercooling requirements and the need to not be moved too much to prevent it from becoming unstable mean bringing the doses to long-term care homes is difficult.

Hirji said the task force has decided that health-care workers and caregivers at long-term care homes will be first in line in Niagara. St. Catharines hospital has enough specialized freezer capacity for nearly 500,000 vaccine doses, and so is best suited as a central location for the first wave of COVID-19 vaccinations.

As of Thursday, Niagara remained in the provincial orange zone, although the recent rapid rise in the infection rate makes it likely Niagara could be moved into the red zone by Queen’s Park as early as Friday.

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