Seven thousand vaccine slots at Mississauga's only COVID-19 community pop-up vaccine clinic were fully booked within just two hours of registration, the organization hosting the clinic says.
The Muslim Association of Canada's vaccine pop-up was one of two announced in Peel Region Tuesday, set to run from April 30 to May 11. The other is being hosted by the Brampton Islamic Centre.
The goal of the clinics was "to boost the vaccination efforts within the Muslim community during the month of Ramadan," Peel Region said in a news release. Together, the two clinics were supposed to administer 14,000 doses of vaccine over a two-week period.
But within the first two hours of booking, all of MAC's available spots were completely full, prompting questions about about a second batch.
"It is obvious that there is high demand for vaccination and more supply is still very much needed," MAC said in a statement to CBC News. The organization said a second batch of appointments was posted on the Peel vaccine booking website Tuesday, but that those appointments too seemed to fill up right away.
'It's not about hesitancy'
When it comes to what the bookings say about the concept of vaccine hesitancy among various communities in Peel Region, the organization said, "It is not about hesitancy, it is more about education, effective promotion and confidence building to be able to reach different communities."
"This partnership at the MAC ICCO pop-up vaccination clinic between community organizations, public health and the province is a good solution," it said.
Racialized and low-income communities want vaccines, they just lack access because of an inequitable vaccine rollout. - Dr. Naheed Dosani
Dr. Naheed Dosani, a palliative care physician and health justice advocate, echoes that sentiment.
Dosani told CBC News he too was concerned about the concept of vaccine hesitancy until he started holding townhalls across the province for diverse communities. What he found were very "appropriate" questions about new vaccines on the horizon and the pandemic in general.
"As time went on, I started to realize that it wasn't so much vaccine hesitancy that we were dealing with, but rather a mistrust of the health-care system," he said, citing "the pain and trauma that health-care government institutions have caused in racialized communities."
"So, when I think about the lineups that we've seen in Scarborough and in Peel and in other racialized communities, they're a great reminder that racialized and low-income communities want vaccines, they just lack access because of an inequitable vaccine rollout," Dosani said.
"They're not necessarily vaccine hesitant. They're vaccine confident, and have limited access due to structural factors. This is why we are advocating to reallocate vaccines to hot spots immediately, you know, 50 per cent or more as per the science table, or people will die."
Late last week, Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table recommended that the province revise its vaccine rollout plan to divert up to 50 per cent of available vaccine doses to 74 hot-spot postal codes. The current strategy allows for 25 per cent of total doses to go to 114 designated hot spots.
Twenty-five of the province's hot spots are in Peel.
'Lots of confusion'
Abeer Khan was just one of those who tried to book a vaccination in Peel Monday. She said the process took four hours.
At 20 years old, Khan lives in a hot spot and therefore qualifies for an appointment, but she says information about the clinics wasn't exactly easy to find.
"I didn't even know there was a clinic until someone messaged me about it," she said in a tweet, noting the provincial website does not provide a list of where mobile clinics are located.
Khan was reacting to a comment made Monday by Health Minister Christine Elliott about there being "very little confusion out there" about how to book an appointment.
"There is, however, lots of confusion," she tweeted in response.
Khan believes the lack of a centralized booking system is just one of the factors contributing to the problems in accessing vaccines. She said unless someone has regular Internet access, fluency in English and can navigate a booking website to make their appointment, they'll likely struggle to do so.
Those kinds of hurdles, as well as the disproportionately longer lines in some areas versus others that may not be as hard-hit by COVID-19, can only exacerbate mistrust of the government, Dosani said.
"The Ontario government knew this and and should have planned for this better. This should have never happened," he said.
"This is what health inequity looks like."
Additional pop-up clinics expected in May
Peel's pop-up community clinics are meant to serve those 18 and up in hot-spot areas, neighbourhoods hardest hit by COVID-19 in terms of deaths, hospitalizations and transmission.
Those communities include the following postal codes:
L4T, L4W, L4X, L4Z
L5A, L5B, L5C, L5K, L5L, L5M, L5N, L5R, L5V, L5W
L6P, L6R, L6S, L6T, L6V, L6W, L6X, L6Y, L6Z
In a news release, Peel Region acknowledged "appointments are extremely limited."
"Demand is expected to be high, which may cause issues with the registration system, we appreciate patience," the release said.
The two new clinics bring the total number of community clinics in Peel Region to three. Ontario announced the first at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Complex a few weeks ago — though that clinic is technically located in Toronto and serves only two Peel hot-spot postal codes: L4T and L6S.
Additional pop-up clinics are set to open throughout the month of May, Peel Region says.
Late last week, the region also announced workplace clinics at Amazon, Maple Leaf Foods and Maple Lodge Farms, as workplace exposures continue to be a major contributor to community transmission.
Meanwhile, Ontario reported another 3,265 cases of COVID-19 and 29 more deaths linked to the virus on Tuesday. Of those, 673 cases were reported in Peel.