‘Getting to the last 20 per cent is challenging.’ Why a mobile health team is bringing COVID-19 vaccines to the hidden unvaccinated
Evelyn Tang received her first dose of COVID-19 vaccine in May and was scheduled to get her second in September.
Although appointments have since been moved up for all age groups with abundant supply of vaccines in the province, the young Torontonian simply couldn’t find the time for it.
First, the new graduate from York University started a job in accounting and then she moved to a new home in July when the third wave of COVID-19 seemed to have subsided.
However, as the daily count of new cases started an upward trajectory again this past week — surpassing the 500 mark the last two days — Tang felt the urgency to get fully vaccinated and looked online for the closest clinic.
On Saturday, with a nice summer breeze on a blue sky day, the 22-year-old strolled into a local parkette tucked away in a concrete jungle of highrise condos near her home in the Sheppard Ave. and Yonge St. neighbourhood.
With her mask on, Tang seated herself in a folding chair on the front row in the lawn. She wasn’t at Willowdale Park for an outdoor concert but rather for a mobile clinic, aptly dubbed the Vaccinator, hosted by the North York General Hospital.
“When they started rebooking people for the second shot I couldn’t get a spot. Then I just got really busy,” Tang said as she rolled up her sleeve for the jab. “It’s great that they have a walk-in clinic right in the community. It’s so convenient.”
And making vaccination accessible is exactly what these mobile clinics are trying to achieve during this critical time to boost the vaccination rates as Canada — and Ontario — is headed for the fourth wave of COVID-19.
“For different reasons, people are not getting their shots. We want to reduce those barriers,” said Dr. Rebecca Stoller, a family doctor with the North York Family Health Team, who oversaw Saturday’s vaccination clinic.
“Getting to the last 20 per cent is challenging.”
On Saturday, Ontario reported 578 new cases of COVID-19 and two new deaths. Among the new cases, 153 new cases were in Toronto, 67 in Peel, 64 in York, 21 in Halton and 20 in Durham.
Although more than 80 per cent of eligible population in Ontario have had at least one shot, latest data showed just 74.5 per cent of those over the age of 18 have been fully vaccinated and 73.1 per cent of all eligible people (12 and above) had had both shots.
The Willowdale East community, a young neighbourhood with high density, fell short by a margin on the fully vaccinated fronts, at 63.6 per cent for all adults and 57.6 per cent for those 12 and above. (The population here with at least one shot was below 70 per cent.)
Over the past week, health officials had canvassed the areas, putting up flyers, knocking on doors of local businesses and visiting residences to promote the clinic, which ran from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., including two other stops, at nearby Toronto District Catholic School Board headquarters and Avondale Park.
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On Saturday, Dr. Naomi Driman made another push by doing rounds in the Willowdale Park, talking to young parents, dog-walkers and picnickers to encourage any unvaccinated people to go for the shot.
“Have you had your COVID vaccines? Do you know anyone who haven’t had a vaccine?” she yelled.
“I have had two. Can I have a booster shot?” asked one young father, with his daughter in toll.
“We love what you’re doing,” chimed in another passerby.
Driman apologized that a third shot has not been authorized yet but she was glad that all but two people she approached had had their shots.
Stoller said getting to the unvaccinated at this stage is difficult because it’s a shrinking pool and they are harder to locate and reach. People may not have the time to navigate online to make a reservation and attend an appointment while struggling between family and work, she explained.
“This is a natural place for people to congregate and we can have a conversation if they have questions and hesitancy,” she said, adding some are reluctant to have their shot because they are concerned about side effects and have no one to address their queries.
To eliminate the barrier for vaccine shoppers, who insist on having the same vaccine for first and second shots, the clinic has made both Pfizer and Moderna available.
Peter Cheng was among the doubters, and he only had his first shot in July, months after his wife and son had theirs.
“There were all these stories on social media about adverse effects from COVID vaccinations,” said Cheng, who was dropped off by his son from his home in the Don Mills-Sheppard Rd. area.
“I was afraid and wanted to wait and see. My wife and son both felt OK, so I went in for my first shot. I wanted to get my second shot sooner but I had to work during the week.”
The North York General health team — and the Vaccinator bus provided by CareFirst Seniors & Community Services Association — will be at the Bathurst-Wilson Parkette at 3749 Bathurst St. from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Details can be found at: https://www.nygh.on.ca/covid19vaccination.
Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung
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