Community ambassadors in Taylor-Massey share information about COVID-19 and vaccines to help increase vaccine uptake.
As a single mother of twin toddlers with special needs, Saba Scott* says it hasn’t been hesitancy or complacency that’s prevented her from getting her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. It’s access.
“I have no one to leave my children with and I’m concerned about taking them to public places because of the risk of COVID,” she says. “So it’s been challenging for me to get to a vaccine clinic.”
That changed on July 11 when East Toronto Health Partners (ETHP), the Ontario Health Team (OHT) serving East Toronto, set up a pop-up vaccine clinic at Joshua Cronkwright Parkette, steps away from Saba’s residence at 500 Dawes Road near Crescent Town.
Saba says she was taking out the garbage when she noticed the large white tent under which local residents were receiving their first and second dose of the vaccine.
Saba approached the clinic staff and shared that she’d like to be vaccinated. However, she says she couldn’t be away from her children during the time it takes to register, receive the vaccine and complete the 15-minute after-care period.
That’s when staff offered to give Saba her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in her apartment.
A nurse and outreach worker walked back to Saba’s unit with her, administered the vaccine in her living room where she was able to watch her children and then stayed with her during the observation period to ensure she didn’t experience any adverse effects.
“It was really unexpected and a wonderful resolution to this problem,” Saba says.
Saba was one of more than 750 people who received their first or second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the pop-up vaccine clinic at Joshua Cronkwright Parkette from July 9 to 11, which was dedicated to residents of high-rise apartment buildings on Dawes Road.
By the end of the three-day pop-up clinic, more than 45 per cent of residents at 500 Dawes Road, where Saba lives, had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Nadjib Alamyar, manager of newcomer wellness at WoodGreen Community Services, one of the ETHP member organizations involved in the clinic, says this is especially noteworthy given the challenges to vaccination in the 14-storey rental building.
City records show 500 Dawes Road is frequently the subject of health- and safety-related complaints by tenants. It’s also home to many people who are considered low-to-moderate income and is situated in Taylor-Massey, which, at the time of writing, has the lowest vaccination rate in Toronto.
Through speaking with the building’s residents, Nadjib says he and local community ambassadors have found that many individuals have a “lack of trust” in vaccines.
This, and misinformation about the vaccine, is driving vaccine hesitancy in the community.
“We heard that many of these residents feel left behind during the pandemic; that no one cares about them,” Nadjib says.
He adds that other residents have shared they’re concerned about experiencing side effects, especially those who are precariously employed or can’t afford to take time off work.
Many residents are also unattached to primary care, meaning they do not have a family doctor who may assist them with accessing vaccines and sharing reliable, evidence-based vaccine information.
Others, like Saba, face other barriers, like a lack of accessible child care, which limit their ability to seek out the COVID-19 vaccine.
To help address some of these challenges, community ambassadors and volunteers from local agencies like WoodGreen, TNO — The Neighbourhood Organization (TNO), Access Alliance, Bangladeshi-Canadian Community Services (BCS) and The Neighbourhood Group (TNG) worked with Michael Garron Hospital (MGH) ahead of the pop-up vaccine clinic at Joshua Cronkwright Parkette.
They conducted outreach to residents by phone and email, and went door-to-door to the units at surrounding buildings to inform residents of the clinic and answer questions about the COVID-19 vaccine.
In addition, they offered residents tickets with pre-scheduled time slots through which they could attend the pop-up. This helped address barriers that may prevent some from attending a traditional appointment-based clinic.
“At times, I would take off my work badge to really engage with people at a human level,” Nadjib adds. “It made a huge difference.
This work is part of a larger effort by local community ambassadors in East Toronto. During the pandemic, they’ve knocked on doors, set up information booths in natural gathering places like parks and plazas, conducted virtual information sessions and connected with residents by phone and email to share important information about COVID-19.
“Earlier in the pandemic, when people knew less about COVID-19, we were sharing information about things like masking and how the virus is transmitted. Now, we’re helping to promote the local vaccine clinics and answering questions about the vaccine,” says Razia Rashed, who’s been a community ambassador with TNO since March 2020 and has been assisting at pop-up vaccine clinics in neighbourhoods like Taylor-Massey.
“For the Dawes Road clinic, we approached groups at nearby parks and bus stops to see if they’d be interested in being vaccinated,” Razia adds. “Because the clinic took place over three days, we were able to approach some people multiple times. They’d get a little friendlier as they became more familiar with us.
“I found it was very successful when we let them speak their minds,” she continues. “We were lending an ear and being non-judgmental. We were able to have a lot of meaningful conversations with people by doing this and convinced some of these people to get vaccinated, including one person who was unsure and was jogging back and forth around the clinic.”
In addition to these efforts, Saba says the extra step that clinic staff took to ensure she could receive her first dose of the vaccine meant a lot.
ETHP’s mobile vaccination team has plans to return to the area to administer second doses to local residents after the appropriate dosing interval has elapsed.
Saba says she’s looking forward to the “mental relief” that comes with being fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“It will give me peace of mind,” she says. “I won’t have to worry as much about potentially catching COVID and being hospitalized and what would happen to my kids.”
She says she’s also looking forward to getting back to the activities her family enjoys.
“We’ve been shielding ourselves from the outside world since last March because the thought of getting COVID has been really terrifying,” Saba adds. “I can’t wait to get outside again where my kids can be kids.”
*Name has been changed to protect client’s privacy.
ETHP is operating pop-up vaccine clinics throughout East Toronto that are open to everyone born in 2009 or earlier who lives, works or attends school in any “M” postal code. First and second doses are available. Appointments may be booked in advance at some clinics. To learn more, visit tehn.ca/vaccinepopups.