While Ontario is shifting its efforts to what the provincial government calls the “last mile” of its vaccination strategy, a group of prominent black organizations warn that the pressure to immunize black communities is not near the finish line.
Toronto’s Black Scientists’ Task Force says of Vaccine Equity that they are concerned that black residents may have “hit a wall” by being vaccinated, because in some neighborhoods with the highest black populations, less than half of the adults are fully vaccinated.
According to Dr. David Burt, a member of the task force and immunologist, black residents make up about nine percent of the Greater Toronto Area population, but they make up 20 to 30 percent of the population in under-vaccinated zip codes and are more likely to be exposed to COVID-19 than their white peers, especially the much more transferable delta variant.
“Although a high percentage of people in the black community have had a first dose, we know that a dose will not give you strong enough protection against this variant,” Burt told CBC News.
He said the lack of vaccinations is a “worrying trend” that could result in a higher proportion of black patients hospitalized or seriously ill after receiving COVID-19. This also happened in August 2020, he said, as the black community accounted for 30 percent of the city’s COVID cases.
As a result, the task force held 25 town hall meetings throughout the year to educate community members about vaccines that had “effectively reduced the hesitation and mistrust” around them.
However, participation in the meetings had fallen sharply in recent weeks at both town halls and mobile clinics.
“It is important that society is fully vaccinated now that the variants are here, otherwise we will see an increase in serious illness, hospitalizations and unfortunately death.”
‘We have to go to them’
Burt said the black community is more hesitant about the vaccine for several reasons, including distrust of society, misinformation shared on social media, and questions about the effectiveness of the vaccines themselves.
Eight other front lines in black community organizations support the results of the task force.
Task Force Chairman Dr. Akwatu Khenti reiterated Burt’s concerns, saying “right now we are positioned to go back to where we were in August last year.”
“We have vaccinated everyone who wants to get a vaccine and now we are dealing with the really hesitant vaccine as well as the vaccine resistant one,” Khenti said.
“These are the people who do not go to town halls and do not read newspapers every single day. Many of them have two and three jobs and their lives are really busy with work and paying the bills because they earn so little that it is their top priority, “he added.
The only solution, Khenti said, is to “intensify” a grassroots approach involving pop-up clinics and members of the community who visit people at home.
“We must go to them. Everyone who can and is able has come to us,” he said.
“Anyone who can put a needle in an arm should be a part of this effort.”
Seeking out in society improves the number
Mobile clinics and outreach initiatives have increased in recent weeks across the city to redirect resources to strategies that focus on communities where fewer people have been shot.
Woodgreen Community Services, for example, has run pop-up vaccine clinics and has run door-knockers to get doses of guns in communities that have trouble accessing their first or second shot.
Nadjib Alamyar, Woodgreen’s manager for newcomer wellness, says his team, which focuses on the Taylor-Massey neighborhood north of Danforth Avenue between Main Street and Victoria Park Avenue, has seen “really positive results” from the initiative.
The organization recruits local ambassadors, which include neighbors and individuals living in the same building, to start the conversation with other residents.
He said 20 to 30 percent of those who visited vaccine clinics now did so for their first dose, a sign that societal enlightenment was reaching people.
“It makes a huge difference when you see someone at your door, someone similar to you who is from your community, and it really makes a difference when you see your neighbors knocking on your door and encourage you to get vaccinated. ,” he said.
He said building a “more trusting relationship” with residents means 62.6 percent of eligible residents now have their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in the Taylor-Massey neighborhood, while 56.5 percent have received their second dose.
Toronto Public Health data shows that 73.1 percent of the entire city’s population has had their first shot, and 67.2 percent now have both doses.
Toronto Assistant Health Officer Dr. Vinita Dubey said the city had worked closely with community partners to understand why people are “hesitant or unable to be vaccinated,” and said staff had found access to vaccines identified as a barrier.
She said many residents had difficulty finding time away from work to get vaccinated, while others, such as the elderly, could not physically get themselves to appointments or “face technical barriers” in the booking process.
She said the city understood that a “community-led” approach was the best way to serve the black community.
“TPH recognizes that there has also been historical mistrust of health services, including the experience of racism, particularly among racist populations, which affects their confidence in access to vaccinations.
“Community ambassadors provide practical, active follow-up with community members, including many areas of the city with larger proportions of black residents, helping them navigate registration systems, correct misinformation, direct community members to clinics, and share information on additional community resources.”