By ALEXANDROS VAROUTAS
East Toronto Health Partners, a coalition of more than 50 community, primary care, home care, hospital and social services organizations, has been adapting its mobile COVID-19 vaccine strategy to keep up with the changing needs of the community.
Since the strategy was implemented in December 2020, the team has visited more than 170 locations including parks, plazas, and schools.
In addition to the already existing plan, ETHP has added COVID Outreach Centres, Workplace Vaccinations, Door-to-Door Vaccinations, Mobile Vaccination Street Team and a Mobile Vaccination Bus to the existing model.
Philip Anthony manages the vaccine strategy at Michael Garron Hospital. His role involves working with organizations and elected officials to bring vaccines to the areas that need extra traction.
Anthony said here are three C’s to vaccine work: Confidence, complacency and convenience. Now that the convenience element has been handled, he says the focus has shifted to confidence and complacency.
Since approximately 80 per cent of the city has had its first dose, it’s clear how many people are hesitant because there aren’t any lines, despite the numbers.
“We used to be able to give 2,000 doses in four hours and now we give 2,000 doses over two days,” he told Beach Metro News.
The COVID outreach centres have been strategically placed throughout the community where historical data shows high presence of infection and low vaccination rates. The goal is to accommodate the needs of residents, from testing and information to first and second vaccinations.
The locations are Flemingdon Park, Oakridge (Scarborough), Taylor-Massey (Crescent Town) and Thorncliffe Park.
These centres are staffed by local family physicians, nurses and pharmacy staff who understand the community they’re serving and can offer reliable, trustworthy information.
One of the other major obstacles for many residents is getting time away from work to go get the vaccine. Starting in August, residents will be able to request a workplace visit by a mobile vaccination team through an online form.
The same applies for residents who have difficulty reaching clinics for mobility reasons. Door-to-door vaccinations have been ramped up in high-rise apartment buildings for eligible residents.
Finally, a street team has also been put together. Nurses and registration clerks have been equipped with a vaccine cart and will be roaming the community administering the vaccines to individuals that want one, from the sidewalk to workers inside businesses.
All of these ideas were implemented with the help of community leaders that worked closely with ETHP to figure out exactly what people needed to get vaccines into the remaining arms.
Aamir Sukhera, a coordinator for The Neighborhood Organization, grew up in Thorncliffe Park and has first-hand experience dealing with the types of challenges residents in the area face.
Sukhera said people in marginalized communities are hesitant to trust doctors and the government.
He admitted that he was just as skeptical, himself, before working so closely with the team from Michael Garron Hospital on the vaccine roll out.
The thing that made the biggest difference in his opinion was the lack of ego he saw among healthcare workers in the community.
“You know, my general perception of doctors and hospitals was ego, but not now,” he told Beach Metro News. “There was no ego in this. It was all about ‘let’s work hard and do whatever it takes to serve people.’”
The flexibility he saw in the vaccine team changed his perspective on how hospitals serve their communities. From setting up in multiple buildings so people wouldn’t have to commute, to getting community translators to ask and answer questions from the healthcare workers.
Even women who might not want to show their arm for cultural reasons were accommodated with a room for them to privately get their shot.
Sukhera said that there are 30,000 people living in a kilometre and a half radius in the Thorncliffe Park area and that the residents work in all parts of the city so the impact made there has far reaching effects.
“I really think the work that they did here saved the entire city,” said Sukhera.