Nearly 1,700 get doses at city's COVID-19 mass vaccination clinic in northwest Toronto

Toronto officials, including Mayor John Tory, pictured here in front of a microphone, opened the city's Vax the Northwest COVID-19 mega-clinic on Sunday at York University's Aviva Centre. (CBC - image credit)
Toronto officials, including Mayor John Tory, pictured here in front of a microphone, opened the city's Vax the Northwest COVID-19 mega-clinic on Sunday at York University's Aviva Centre. (CBC - image credit)

Nearly 1,700 people received COVID-19 vaccine doses at a one-day mega-clinic organized by the city in northwest Toronto on Sunday.

The clinic, called Vax the Northwest, ran from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at York University's Aviva Centre.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said the clinic had the capacity to vaccinate 400 people per hour. Walk-ins were welcome and no health card was required. The clinic offered first, second, third and children's doses and 48 health care workers administered Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

Tory officially opened the clinic with the help of Coun. Joe Cressy, chair of Toronto Board of Health, Coun. Anthony Perruzza, who represents Ward 7 Humber River–Black Creek, and Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

"What we are doing today is trying to vaccinate quite literally hundreds of people in the northwest," Tory said.

The mayor said there is a division in Toronto in terms of numbers of people vaccinated, with some neighbourhoods having vaccination rates of 80 per cent and higher and others having vaccination rates of 30 per cent and higher.

"That is not a prescription for keeping everybody, without exception, safe and healthy and that is why we are making a special effort to come to this part of the city, where there are some neighbourhoods that are under-vaccinated," he said.

The TTC provided shuttles to the clinic from nine pick-up locations, including local shopping malls and recreation centres.

The clinic included music, toy and ticket giveaways and support dogs from the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides to make the vaccination experience more comfortable for residents. York University's mascot, Yeo the Lion, was also on hand.

City of Toronto/Twitter
City of Toronto/Twitter

Cressy, for his part, said Vax the Northwest was an "all out all hands on deck" effort to reach under-vaccinated neighbourhoods.

"To succeed in the vaccination campaign, we need to reach everyone everywhere. To put it simply, it doesn't matter if the vaccine rates are great in Rosedale. They need to be great in Rosedale and Rexdale. It doesn't matter if the vaccine rates are great in the Beaches. They need to be great in the Beaches and Black Creek," he said.

Cressy said the city has found throughout its vaccine campaign that there are communities that face structural barriers to accessing vaccines. These include linguistic and technological barriers, he said.

The city is trying to make vaccine clinics easier to access and Vax the Northwest was part of that effort, he added.

There was "targeted multi-lingual outreach" in 14 languages ahead of the clinic that involved people knocking on doors, making phone calls and sending text messages, he said. Residents were informed about the clinic, given instructions on how to get there and asked if they need transportation.

Cressy said the city is using a "data driven hyper-local neighbourhood" approach to vaccination and that involves bringing vaccines not just to people, but to their buildings. The city plans to have nearly 73 clinics in Toronto Community Housing buildings in the coming weeks.

Before the event, Lecce said, "I want to thank all the partners, the hospitals, York University and of course the City of Toronto for working hard to reduce the barriers and increase access to immunization."

Ambassadors key to reducing hesitancy, expert says

Michelle Joseph, CEO of Unison Health and Community Services, a community health centre that works with and provides services to people experiencing poverty, said community ambassadors make all the difference when it comes to reducing vaccine hesitancy in certain areas of Toronto.

Unison has worked with the city for about a year to reach out to communities with low vaccine and high COVID-19 rates, working with residents to ensure people get vaccinated and providing the city with information at a local level and ideas on how best to reach those communities.

"Why people are hesitant can be very different depending what their background is, what their lived experience has been," Joseph said.

Overcoming vaccine hesitancy involves listening, understanding and identifying the concern behind the hesitancy, Joseph added.

City says it has administered 6.38M vaccine doses

The city, through its Team Toronto initiative, has administered 6.38 million doses in slightly more than a year, the mayor said.

According to the city, more than 90 per cent of Toronto residents have one vaccine dose, more than 87 per cent have two doses and more than 53 per cent have three doses.

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