Foo Ngan, an 82-year-old East Chinatown resident, receives his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the office of his family doctor, Dr. Terence Leung.
Foo Ngan, an 82-year-old East Chinatown resident, was among the first groups of individuals eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Ontario. But as someone who isn’t frequently online and is most comfortable communicating in his mother tongue, Cantonese, he knew getting his first dose wouldn’t be as easy as a few clicks of a mouse.
“I was determined to get the vaccine so I was prepared to ask my family members to help me research and book an appointment online,” Mr. Ngan shared in Cantonese.
In March, however, Mr. Ngan received a phone call from his family doctor, Dr. Terence Leung. Dr. Leung offered Mr. Ngan the opportunity to receive the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a primary care vaccine clinic for Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking patients.
The clinic would take place at Bridgepoint Active Healthcare’s Administration Building, Dr. Leung said, a short streetcar ride from his office at Greenwood Avenue and Gerrard Street East. Dr. Leung and other local family physicians who speak Cantonese and Mandarin would be there, administering vaccines and serving as familiar faces for patients.
On March 17, Mr. Ngan received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the primary care vaccine clinic at Bridgepoint. “My arm was a little sore afterward, but I didn’t experience any other side effects,” he said. “I was excited because getting the vaccine means I’m protected against COVID-19.”
Mr. Ngan was one of more than 550 people, many of them elderly, who received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at four Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking clinics hosted at Bridgepoint between March and April. The clinics were organized by Bridgepoint Family Health Team as part of East Toronto Family Practice Network (EasT-FPN), a group of 200-plus family physicians in East Toronto that includes Dr. Leung.
Michael Garron Hospital (MGH), South Riverdale Community Health Centre (SRCHC) and WoodGreen Community Services provided support and additional Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking staff at the primary care vaccine clinics. EasT-FPN, MGH, SRCHC and WoodGreen are all members of East Toronto Health Partners (ETHP), the Ontario Health Team (OHT) serving East Toronto.
“It can be difficult for patients who are 70, 80, 90 years old to navigate an online booking system — one that is primarily in English — and travel to a vaccine clinic that’s far away from home,” said Dr. Karen Chu, a family physician with the Bridgepoint Family Health Team and a member of EasT-FPN who helped spearhead the Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking clinics. “By hosting a clinic near East Chinatown, we were able to bring vaccines to many of the area’s Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking residents.”
According to census data, Cantonese and Mandarin are the second and fourth most commonly spoken languages, respectively, in the Toronto-Danforth ward that East Chinatown is part of. To help ensure these populations were reached, EasT-FPN worked closely with Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking family doctors in East Toronto to offer their eligible patients vaccine appointments at Bridgepoint by phone.
These family doctors included Dr. Leung, Dr. Tat Wong, Dr. Ying Sied, Dr. Victoria Lin and Dr. Kaiyan Su. They were able to address any questions or concerns their patients had by phone, as well as in person when the individual arrived at the clinic. Some of these physicians’ Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking office managers and receptionists also assisted onsite, providing an additional level of comfort for patients.
“It’s all about accessibility and making it as easy and convenient as possible for people,” Dr. Leung said. “In addition, it helps when it’s a family doctor who is delivering the vaccine — someone who knows the client’s medical history and what their concerns may be. Some of my patients have been with me for more than 30 years. There’s a level of trust and familiarity there.”
More than 200 people received their first dose of the vaccine at the team’s Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking clinic on April 29. It was their highest volume primary care vaccine clinic for this population yet. On May 23, ETHP conducted an additional first-dose pop-up vaccine clinic for Cantonese and Mandarin speakers at Jimmie Simpson Recreation Centre.
“One of the huge points of pride was that a quarter of the patients [on April 29] were over 70, including many in their 80s and 90s,” said Stephen Jersak, project manager of COVID-19 Community Response at MGH who assisted with the Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking primary care vaccine clinics. “These were people who had been eligible for months but had not been vaccinated. We were able to book them in by reaching out to them with language-specific staff, both from MGH and the primary care offices, and remove whatever barrier or hesitancy had been there.”
EasT-FPN, with the support of ETHP, is now operating second-dose Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking clinics for individuals who received their first dose at Bridgepoint. Like with the first-dose clinics, the second-dose ones take place at Bridgepoint and are staffed by physicians, nurses and others who speak Cantonese and Mandarin.
To complement this approach, some of the clinics’ participating family doctors, such as Dr. Leung, are also administering second doses to eligible patients in their offices, thanks to a supply of vaccines provided by MGH. That’s how Mr. Ngan received his second dose on June 4.
“Getting the second dose at Dr. Leung’s office was a very, very comfortable experience,” Mr. Ngan said. “I know the space well and I’m familiar with Dr. Leung and his staff. I was also able to walk there, instead of taking public transit.”
Mr. Ngan said he’s thankful to have had the chance to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in a place that is accessible to him — and that he didn’t have to rely on family to secure an appointment, as he originally anticipated.
He encourages those who have not yet gotten the vaccine to consider it. “The vaccine helps prevent COVID-19 infection and sickness,” Mr. Ngan said. “The side effects are minor and better than getting the disease. The more people who get the vaccine, the faster we can go back to regular life.”