Mark Clairmont |

SIMCOE MUSKOKA — Call it home sweet home.

The COVID-19 immunization of residents of long-term care (LTC) and retirement homes (RH) in Simcoe Muskoka is now underway.

The immunization program began Monday in long-term care homes following the Jan. 6 decision by the province that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can be safely transported out to the homes.

Retirement home residents will begin to receive the vaccine next week.

Until yesterday the more than 8,100 health-care workers who’ve already received the first dose had to travel to Barrie to be injected.

“COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on both the residents and employees in long-term care and being able to offer the protection this vaccine provides to those who are the most vulnerable is a critical milestone,” Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said in a release this afternoon.

“We are hoping everyone who opts for the vaccine within our LTC and RH communities to have received it over the next two weeks.”

Cheers erupted at Barrie’s Victoria Village Manor Monday as 80-year-old Pat Sinclair, a former nurse, became the region’s first long-term care resident to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. (Video here.)

“I’m thrilled to be able to do this. I’m hoping it gives me and my family that feeling of we’re okay, we’re going to be okay. We’ll get through this,” said Sinclair.

Through a pilot immunization program on Monday, 111 residents from Victoria Village Manor and 67 residents at Oak Terrace Long-Term Care Home in Orillia received the vaccine.

Cheers erupted as 80-year-old Pat Sinclair, a former nurse, became the region’s first long-term care resident to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“This will be a game changer for long-term care and congregate settings. It will level the playing field,” said Bill Krever, Victoria Village president and CEO. “As the number of COVID-19 cases increases in this region, the availability of this vaccine to our residents couldn’t have come at a better time.”

To date the vaccine has only been administered to priority groups by invitation at the COVID-19 Immunization Clinic in Barrie.

The clinic, a partnership between the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) and the City of Barrie, opened Dec. 22. Since then, more than 8,100 doses of the vaccine have been administered to long-term care and retirement home employees and essential caregivers, and prioritized hospital workers.

The health unit says priority groups will continue to be invited to be immunized at the clinic, which is one of the busiest vaccine sites in the province.

“As COVID cases continue to surge, both across the province and in Simcoe Muskoka, we are working hard to get the vaccine to those who need it most, as safely, quickly and efficiently as possible,” said Janice Skot, RVH’s president and chief executive officer. “By focusing on the most vulnerable individuals and those most at risk, we will save lives.”

Supply of the vaccine remains limited and at this time is being offered by appointment only to priority groups identified by the provincial government, including residents, staff and essential caregivers from congregate living settings (e.g. long-term care homes and retirement homes), as well as prioritized hospital workers.

As additional vaccines are approved by Health Canada, and as part of Ontario’s three phase immunization plan, vaccine distribution will be expanded to other priority groups and then to the general public.

The public is reminded that during the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine it’s important that everyone continue follow public health measures to reduce and prevent transmission of the virus: Wear a mask, physically distance from those outside your household, wash your hands frequently, stay home if you are sick, and get tested for COVID-19 if you have symptoms.

For more information, visit the health unit’s COVID-19 Vaccine and Immunization web page or call Health Connection to speak with a public health professional weekdays 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Saturdays 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 705-721-7520 (1-877-721-7520). More information about the vaccine and immunization can also be found at

Public health nurses and registered practical nurses from the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, including Penni Sisak, left, Kim Lafreniere, Denise Lacroix, Shawna Frolick and Charlotte Knegt in front, as well as Shelley Murphy, pharmacy Manager, Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre, rright, were a part of the COVID-19 vaccination of residents of the Oak Terrace Long Term Care in Orillia on Monday.

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