Winnipeg's Macdonald Youth Services to use vaccine grant for grassroots approach to immunization

·3 min read

An organization that works with marginalized Manitobans wants people to know that for many, getting vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus is not as easy as simply dropping by a doctor’s office or vaccine clinic and getting the shot.

“Clinics like the one at the convention centre are doing an amazing job and it’s a great resource, but it’s a process, and for people that are marginalized or dealing with mental health or addictions issues, it often just isn’t accessible to them,” Macdonald Youth Services (MYS) chief executive officer Kerri Irvin-Ross said.

“For example, a person who may be homeless or who is living in an encampment in Winnipeg likely isn’t going to one day just feel comfortable walking into a big vaccination site, or often won’t have that technology or the proper identification to even set up an appointment.”

MYS is an organization located in downtown Winnipeg that works with youth and young adults dealing with issues such as addictions, homelessness, crisis situations, and mental health issues.

With their head office located on Mayfair Avenue in downtown Winnipeg, Irvin-Ross said that since the vaccines first became available in Manitoba, MYS has been actively working to get shots into the arms of those who may have barriers to getting them.

“In the area where we are located you have people there are living under the Donald Street Bridge or in the park near here, so we need to be reaching out to those people, and we will be reaching out and connecting to make sure as many as possible can get the vaccine,” she said.

Irvin-Ross added MYS has plans to host a walk-in vaccine clinic sometime this summer, although a date for that clinic has not yet been set.

“So it really is about reducing those barriers, and creating a safe and a culturally safe place,” Irvin-Ross said. “We want to make sure there are helpers available, if there are people who are nervous they can answer their questions. We want it to be a comfortable and welcoming space.”

MYC will now have more cash to help those with those barriers to getting vaccines, as on Tuesday the province announced that they will receive just under $20,000, as one of 25 community organizations that will receive grant money to support vaccine uptake in “low immunization” areas.

“Macdonald Youth Services, guided by its youth peer council, will co-ordinate outreach and education with the diverse youth it serves including Indigenous youth, youth aging out of care, those experiencing poverty and homelessness, LGBTQ2S+ youth, immigrant youth, and youth with mental health and addiction issues,” the province said in a press release regarding the funding.

In total, the province said it will provide 25 community grants worth a total of $390,000.

Irvin-Ross said that when it comes to getting shots into the arms of the people they work with, it’s all about a “grassroots” effort to make people feel safe to both get their shots, and to figure out when and where to get them.

“I think that it’s been proven time and time again and there is clear evidence that the grassroots approach is the most effective to eliminating those barriers,” she said.

As of Tuesday, when the announcement was made, approximately 73% of Manitobans ages 12 and up had at least their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while around 40% have had two doses, according to provincial data.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun

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