Weymouth school doubles as vaccination clinic to encourage first-dose uptake in region

·3 min read
People who live in the western zone are encouraged to make an appointment for their first dose at the mass vaccine clinic at St Mary's Bay Academy, which runs Thursday and Friday this week. (John Van Dusen/CBC - image credit)
People who live in the western zone are encouraged to make an appointment for their first dose at the mass vaccine clinic at St Mary's Bay Academy, which runs Thursday and Friday this week. (John Van Dusen/CBC - image credit)

A mass vaccination clinic will operate out of a secondary school in Weymouth, N.S., this week to make it easier for people to get immunized against COVID-19 in an area of the province with below-average vaccination rates.

The clinic at St Mary's Bay Academy takes place on Thursday and Friday, and Public Health says it has 544 doses of Pfizer to give out.

The clinic is open to anyone who lives in the western zone, from New Minas to Yarmouth, and needs a first dose, said Meaghan Marsters, the mass immunization manager for the area.

While over 75 per cent of people 50 and up have received their first dose in the western zone, she said there hasn't been as much uptake with younger residents.

"We look at the 35- to 50-year-olds and we start to see, compared to the rest of the province, a little bit of a decrease, you know, usually around eight to 10 per cent, so we really do want to dig into that," Marsters told CBC Radio's Information Morning on Wednesday.

As of Wednesday morning, 100 appointments had been booked at the clinic.

Catherine Hebb, the director of Public Health in the western zone, said staff are still trying to figure out why the vaccination rates are lower in the western zone than elsewhere in Nova Scotia, but it's likely a variety of factors.

"There are transportation issues, but I think … attitude plays into it," she said. "The social determinants of health play into it. We have a population that hasn't necessarily lived through other pandemics."

Hebb said both her parents contracted polio when they were children in the 1940s and '50s.

"We have that kind of memory around what that meant and the absolute relief and joy when a new vaccine was introduced," she said.

Similar clinic in Shelburne filled up

A similar mass-vaccination clinic was held in Shelburne last week and Hebb said it was a big success thanks to community volunteers who spread the word.

When the clinic opened on Saturday there were hundreds of empty spots, but all of them filled up, she said.

"We had fishers who were [on their] last day of lobster season, and they were coming off the boats and going to the clinic so it was pretty extraordinary and pretty proud of that work down there," Hebb said.

People who want to get their first dose at the mass clinic are encouraged to book ahead online or over the phone, but they can also show up on site without an appointment, Marsters said.

Students will now be back in classrooms at the school but Public Health says there's a separate entrance for people attending the clinic.

Immunizations can be done in French

Immunization can be conducted in French, given the large Acadian population in the region, Hebb said. There is also a ride service that will take people to and from their appointments.

Marsters and Hebb hope removing some of the barriers people face will help them make an informed decision about getting their first dose.

"I think it's about having conversations with empathy and compassion and ... using open-ended questions, you know, what are the fears and anxieties, and then giving some straight facts about what does the science actually tell us about vaccination," Hebb said.

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