LONDON, ONT. -- An Ontario researcher is sounding alarm bells in the wake of staggering figures on a little-discussed impact of the current pandemic.

Dr. Peter Blake says more than 20 per cent of chronic dialysis patients in Ontario who contracted COVID-19, have died.

“This is a significantly higher mortality than in the general population.”

Blake, a professor at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, suggests the current mortality rate in the general population sits at one per cent.

His alarming numbers come from two periods of research conducted on 12,500 long-term dialysis patients in Ontario.

Blake says during the first study, between March and Aug. 2020, 187 patients on long-term dialysis became infected.

At that time, it represented 1.5 per cent of the total patients in the province.

“And tragically 28 per cent of them had died, and 68 per cent had been hospitalized.”

With such concerning numbers, Blake says the study was extended until January of this year.

During those months, another 424 patients were infected. and 20 per cent of these patients died.

“And so now we have had 130 people who are on dialysis die from COVID. And many, many more have spent periods in hospital.”

To counter the wave of deaths, Blake suggests ongoing efforts to improve sanitation and general safety at dialysis clinics continue.

He also believes those just starting dialysis should be given set-up to do it from home.

But he says vaccines are desperately needed.

And while he acknowledges long-term care home residents need the shots first, he believes dialysis patients need to go next.

“Second only to that group, I would say the dialysis population, with over 20 per cent mortality and over five per cent getting the infection so far, would be to me one of the very first next priorities after long-term care.”

Blake says two trends, similar to what’s been noted in the general population, are also proving true for dialysis patients: age and location.

He says younger dialysis patients have a greater rate of survival than the old.

And those who live in the Greater Toronto Area and Windsor-Essex have a greater chance of dying due to typically higher COVID-19 case counts in those regions.

Still, he says all patients need to careful.

“Please follow the government recommendations even more than everyone else, because it is critically important.”