Vancouver woman worries Chinatown seniors left behind in vaccination rollout

·3 min read
Parveen Khtaria is advocating for the seniors in her building near Vancouver’s Chinatown Millennium Gate. She worries they will fall behind in the province's vaccination schedule due to logistical problems with booking appointments.  (Maggie MacPherson/CBC - image credit)
Parveen Khtaria is advocating for the seniors in her building near Vancouver’s Chinatown Millennium Gate. She worries they will fall behind in the province's vaccination schedule due to logistical problems with booking appointments. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC - image credit)

A Vancouver woman says the inability to book group COVID-19 vaccinations for seniors in her Chinatown apartment building puts them at risk of falling behind in the province's vaccination plan.

Parveen Khtaria has volunteered to help arrange vaccinations for around 20 seniors in her building beside the Millennium Gate. Many of them speak only Cantonese and don't have family nearby to help them through the booking process, she said.

She says having someone come to the building to vaccinate them all at once makes the most sense, but trying to make it happen has turned into a logistical nightmare.

"We usually have flu vaccinations that come straight to our building. So I'm surprised that there wasn't the same situation for the COVID vaccine with these seniors," Khtaria said.

The seniors in her building are between the ages of 70 and 90, Khtaria said. The subsidized building is not considered long-term care, so they had not previously been eligible for vaccinations.

British Columbians in their 80s can begin booking vaccination appointments this week, but appointments must be booked individually.

Khtaria says she wants to make a group vaccination booking for the seniors in her building because it's the safest and most efficient option to vaccinate multiple vulnerable people.
Khtaria says she wants to make a group vaccination booking for the seniors in her building because it's the safest and most efficient option to vaccinate multiple vulnerable people.(CBC/Shawn Foss)

This doesn't make sense for a community like hers, Khataria said, when vaccinating everyone on site would be easier and safer than arranging appointments and transportation for each of them individually.

'We will make sure our seniors are taken care of'

Khtaria said she contacted Vancouver Coastal Health, the Ministry of Health and her MLA, Melanie Mark.

While they all agreed a group vaccination would be most effective in this case, Khtaria said no one has been able to make it happen.

"The MLA's office communicated with me that the Ministry of Health actually wants people to do what I'm doing," she said.

"This is exactly what should be happening, community members take care of other community members who don't have the familial support around them or other resources to help them navigate this process.

"We just need somebody who has that authority to permit this to happen."

In a statement, B.C.'s health ministry says people who cannot leave their homes to get vaccinated can share this information with call centre operatives when booking their appointment. These people will be called back about having a mobile clinic meet them where they are, the statement said.

Mobile clinics have been used to reach long-term care and assisted living facilities as well as rural and Indigenous communities, the province added, and they will now be used to immunize independent and supportive-living residents and staff and those receiving long-term home support.

Khtaria says she has explained the situation to numerous officials and has not received further clarity on when or how her neighbours could be vaccinated at home. She doesn't blame anyone for the logistical difficulties.

Together with Abby Yeung, a caretaker who is also acting as a translator for the seniors, Khtaria wants to ensure the seniors are cared for and don't fall behind just because of communication and logistics barriers.

She believes her building is not unique, and worries other seniors in B.C. in similar living situations might not have anyone who can advocate for them through the vaccination process.

"We will make sure our seniors are taken care of. But we can't guarantee the same is happening for all of the other buildings.

"And if ours are falling through [the cracks], those others who don't have a Parveen and an Abby to support them are not going to get their vaccinations on the schedule that we would want them to."

Many of these seniors who live in Khtaria's building in Chinatown speak Cantonese only and don't have family nearby to help them through the booking process, she said.
Many of these seniors who live in Khtaria's building in Chinatown speak Cantonese only and don't have family nearby to help them through the booking process, she said.(CBC/Shawn Foss)