The advent of the Delta variant in the region has pushed public health officials to increase efforts to break through vaccine hesitancy to get those first shots into arms.
One way the region is doing so is through a social media campaign called What's Your Why.
"All of us have our own compelling reasons for why we want to be vaccinated," said regional chair Karen Redman, who was conducting the weekly public health briefing held online Friday. "Sharing those reasons can have an impact on others. The campaign will speak to the evidence behind the vaccine and reinforce that once we're fully vaccinated, we can get back to fully enjoying life."
This campaign builds on the targeted strategies already underway, she said.
"This includes community members going door-to-door and information sessions in high priority neighbourhoods," Redman said. "With all this, we will reach 75 per cent or higher vaccination rate across all eligible groups in Waterloo."
Other officials involved with vaccine rollout were also present to answer questions.
"Today, was our First Dose Friday in our highest priority neighbourhoods where it was offered through walk in," said Shirley Hilton, deputy chief, Waterloo Regional Police Service, adding the region is one of seven Delta variant hotspots. "That was one way of encouraging people. Staff were onsite to answer any questions and hope to encourage participation."
As well, she said, the region's engagement team is working with a number of communities and assisting with town halls, answering specific questions related to vaccines and dispelling some of the myths.
Hilton said the approach has been getting the answers to people and not waiting for them to go seeking information.
This, she said, is being done by providing local businesses and chambers with a a one-page document that contains basic information.
Active engagement, Hilton added, has worked best so far.
"It's really our community engagement team through Fauzia Baig and our primary healthcare teams that have been working really hard to educate doctors and pharmacies so they can engage with their patients," she said. "Often when people have questions they go through someone they trust and it's often their doctor. It's also through our community leaders that have been doing some door knocking. Being available and making sure we have availability to answer questions."
Dr. Julie Emili, associate medical officer of health, said lack of education is one of the core reasons driving vaccine hesitancy.
"An approach to vaccine hesitancy is addressing multiple issues and meet people where they're at and decrease hesitancy," she said. "We've been talking a lot today about the final push for the first dose. Most people that wanted it were banging on the doors to get through. Now we want to target those that are left. We're trying different things for people and the second dose is also mostly the people that are banging on the doors. And once that group is done, you have a sense of who is left behind."
Hilton said currently the demand for second doses is strong.
"There's really no indication of hesitancy, in fact, it's the opposite," she said. "What we saw in the first dose strategy, we're seeing in the second dose strategy. We're starting to see people's anxiety around the Delta variant and people wanting to get second doses. We're seeing people register for second doses."
Hilton also said there is talk of increasing capacity at vaccination centres, however, she said right now, it's only around increasing hours of operation.
"It's all very dependent on vaccine supply," she said. "We can only vaccinate with what we have. Increased capacity is potentially only extending hours at this stage."
Lee Fairclough, president, St. Mary's General Hospital, said these efforts, along with other public health measures need to continue.
"We've also seen an increase in hospitalizations," she said. "I know overnight, coming in from my check in this morning, we've already had three additional admissions overnight. At the beginning of June, in St. Mary's, we had managed to see hospitalizations come down as low as five. Over the course of the last week, we have now jumped up to 17 new admissions for COVID. In addition, we continue to care for 14 that were admitted for COVID and continue to require care."
Fairclough couldn't provide any information if any of the cases coming in to the ICU had already received their first vaccine dose.
Emili said, anecdotally, she could confirm that case clusters were being seen in unvaccinated groups.
But, she noted, that does not mean the region cannot reopen with caution.
"It's always been a balancing act," Emili said, adding there hasn't been evidence of transmission in outdoor settings. "We're looking at this cautiously. There are unintended consequences of staying in lockdown. As we move forward to step one, the focus is on outdoor settings. It still is a reminder you have to practise public health measures. We will be monitoring this very closely and we have been over the last week. We have to stick to public health measures, get vaccinated and balance those two."