Dana Roberts
CTV News Barrie Weekend Producer / Videographer


“We are so close to ending this pandemic,” says Simcoe Muskoka’s Associate Medical Officer for Health, Dr. Colin Lee.

While he says he’s cautiously optimistic about further expanding the vaccine rollout, one of the area’s top doctors says he remains concerned about more contagious variants of COVID-19.

According to Lee, the province’s decision to step up vaccination efforts by letting people book their second vaccine dose earlier than originally planned is a good strategy.

“The second dose provides extra protection, which will of course be very useful as that extra protection helps keep COVID levels down in our communities so they don’t flare up,” he says.

Lee said this is crucial given the growing concern about the B.1617 variant, which was first discovered in India.

Public Health Ontario confirmed this week that the variant grew nearly six times in a week in May.

Lee says that while there were only three cases in Simcoe Muskoka that have been confirmed as the B.1617 variant, this is most likely an underestimate as not all cases are tested for this new strain. According to Lee, recent data suggest that one dose of vaccine does not provide adequate protection against this variant. So getting more second shots in the arms is more important than ever.

“We are well on the way to giving everyone the opportunity for the first dose, and because we have, the second dose will help the older population, those who are immunocompromised and may not have gotten that much.” A good response, an immune response to the first dose to get that extra protection, “said Lee.

Lee claims local residents and business owners need to be patient to reopen a little longer and encourage everyone to hold out for a few more weeks. “Reopening prematurely for an additional couple of weeks or so can pose a threat, especially with new variations currently under consideration.”

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While Lee wants business owners to tolerate being closed for a few more weeks, he urges schools to open.

“We want … we need schools that open as soon as possible. By the middle of next week,” he says.

With cases falling and vaccinations rising, the benefits outweigh the risks of reopening schools before the summer break, according to Lee.

“We recognize that there is still a risk of COVID transmission in schools, but we have seen in the past and we believe at this point that the risk is acceptable and low,” Lee said. “We not only support return to personal school, we also need it. We believe the benefits currently outweigh the risks.”

Children ages 12-17 can roll up their sleeves for the Pfizer shot. The health unit opens thousands of appointments on Saturday morning to try and vaccinate as many students as possible in June.

Last week the health unit vaccinated approximately 27,000 people in its clinics and is forecasting a similar number for the week of May 31st. The provincial stay home order expires on Wednesday.

Lee says the emergency brake will remain in place, and he doesn’t expect the province to hit step one of its reopening roadmap any earlier than mid-June.

“Having the stuff at home means you don’t have to stay home that often, but it doesn’t mean you go out and gather around,” he says. “We still have to wear our masks, keep our physical distance, and keep outdoor gatherings to five or less.”

In response to reports from some Canadians who left their vaccination appointments after worried about getting the Moderna shot, Lee says the amount of information about different vaccines can be overwhelming.

However, he emphasized that there is no difference between Pfizer and Moderna, which are based on the same technology.

“It’s like drinking Coke or drinking Pepsi? It’s really a brand awareness issue,” says Lee. “Moderna’s product placement in the media or on social groups got it into second grade. It’s not a second grade vaccine. It’s Pfizer’s equal.”

A closed sign hangs in a shop window while the COVID is on -19 pandemic is dragging on. FILE IMAGE (AP Photo / Jeff Roberson)

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Ref: https://barrie.ctvnews.ca