‘Bring on the Johnson & Johnson’: Toronto homelessness sector says one-dose vaccine would be easier for a transient population

·2 min read

As Canada anticipates its first shipment of Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose COVID-19 vaccine, Toronto’s homelessness sector is vying for access — arguing that single doses would be easier to roll out to a transient population, and that it could help stem the tide of shelter outbreaks.

Rollout plans for Johnson & Johnson are still up in the air, with both officials and health workers awaiting guidance from the National Committee on Immunization. Ontario’s Ministry of Health declined to talk about its rollout plans Monday, citing that pending national decision.

But for those who work in Toronto’s homeless services, it’s a decision that can’t come soon enough.

Diana McNally of Toronto’s Drop-In Network believes having a “one and done” vaccination could be a way to lower barriers for the homeless population — arguing doing so could catch those who may be transient or move between sites, and stave off outbreaks faster.

“It’s going to be difficult to keep track of folks, especially since many are receiving the vaccine without ID or a health card,” McNally said, noting people may also move outside as the weather warms. “Planning for an appointment four months down the line and ensuring that the second dose occurs, let alone of the same vaccine as the first dose, is an extremely high barrier.”

For weeks, Toronto’s shelters have been trying to get as many vaccinations delivered as possible, while battling rising infections. Across the city, 20 different shelter outbreaks have amassed 323 confirmed infections. Since March, around 1,850 residents have been vaccinated in city-funded shelters and respites, which house about 5,800 people each night.

Shelter vaccine efforts have been complicated by hesitancy and mistrust in the health-care system. Dixon Hall has held vaccine clinics at all of its shelters, said housing services director David Reycraft, but generally only had 30 to 50 per cent uptake. Reycraft believes some nervousness has faded, as cases have risen and others got their shots without issue.

But Andrew Bond, medical director of Toronto’s Inner City Health Associates, believes the Johnson & Johnson shot could be a key to boosting their vaccination numbers — noting that not only is it a single-dose shot, but it can also be stored in a regular fridge.

That flexibility — something not afforded by other shots like the Pfizer, which require much colder temperatures — means shelters could keep a few doses on site to deliver anytime, Bond said. When transport is less complicated, smaller teams can do outreach with the vaccines rather than relying on the large, single-day operations they’d been running, he added.

Bond believes that puts them in a unique position to use the new shot. Reycraft makes the same case: “From the very beginning, we’ve been saying, ‘Bring on the Johnson & Johnson.’”

Victoria Gibson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Toronto Star