By ALI RAZA, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
East Toronto, it’s time to think about getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
If you’re 80 and older, live or work in a retirement home, are a high-priority health care worker, a recipient of chronic home care, or an Indigenous Canadian adult, you can get the COVID-19 vaccine right now.
The federal government, the province, the City of Toronto, and local health partners are working in tandem to secure the vaccine supply and to ensure the proper distribution of the vaccines to communities. Canada has just approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for use, it joins the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines that were approved in December 2020.
“As an intervention, the case for vaccines is clear,” Toronto’s medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa said.
“The reduction of virus spread in long-term care and retirement homes demonstrates why prioritizing vaccines for people who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 is an effective course of action while more vaccines supply increases.”
The province plans to distribute the vaccines in a series of phases.
Phase 1, which began in January and will continue into March 2021, includes adults age 80 or older, staff, residents, and caregivers in retirement homes and other seniors’ homes, health care workers identified as high priority by the Ministry of Health, all Indigenous adults, and adult recipients of chronic home care.
Phase 2 will begin in April and run to July 2021, depending on vaccine availability. Older adults, beginning with those 79 years of age and decreasing in five-year increments over the rollout, will be eligible. People who live and work in high-risk congregate settings, frontline essential workers, individuals with high-risk chronic conditions, and other populations and communities facing barriers, are eligible for vaccination under Phase 2.
In Phase 3, tentatively scheduled to begin August 2021, members of the general public will be eligible for immunization.
That’s the vaccine plan at the top. But at the community level, East Toronto Health Partners (ETPH) and Michael Garron Hospital (MGH) in East York have released vital information for local residents seeking the shot.
In a combined effort, ETHP, MGH, Ontario Health Team, Toronto Public Health, the City of Toronto, and community health centres will be offering COVID-19 vaccinations through immunization clinics, mobile vaccinations teams, and coordination with family physicians in East Toronto.
“During the pandemic, we’ve relied on our strong partnerships with our ETHP member organizations to deliver an integrated, community-based response to COVID-19 that considers the needs of our most vulnerable populations,” MGH CEO and President Sarah Downey said.
“We’re thrilled to continue this collaborative work to ensure East Toronto residents can safely, easily, and quickly receive the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it’s available to them.”
Mobile vaccination teams are meant to reduce barriers for residents experiencing challenges accessing a clinic.
The teams deliver and administer vaccines to seniors in congregate care, individuals living in shelters or experiencing homelessness, and clients of community health care centres and family physicians offices who are 80 years or older.
Mobile vaccinations also continued this last weekend for seniors aged 80 and over at South Riverdale Community Health Centre, which is one of nine immunization clinics in the city recently announced by Toronto Public Health.
The immunization clinics are not open to the public this time, but are planned to open as the rollout continues and the supply increases.
Clinics include Warden Hilltop Community Centre (25 Mendelssohn St.), Michael Garron Hospital (825 Coxwell Ave.), Thorncliffe Park Community Hub (45 Overlea Blvd.) and the Jimmie Simpson Recreation Centre (870 Queen St. E.).
Warden Hilltop will open early March for pre-booked appointments for specific eligibility listed above. Thorncliffe and Jimmie Simpson are not yet operational.
MGH also has plans to move one of two of its hospital-based immunization clinics to Warden Hilltop to allow for a higher volume of vaccinations.
ETHP is developing an online pre-registration for residents aged 80 or older. Individuals who complete this form will be contacted when vaccine supply is available. For more information, please visit https://ethp.ca/main/covid19/vaccine
Once vaccinations are available for the general public, individuals will have to book COVID-19 immunization appointments via the province’s booking system that has yet to be released.
Health partners request residents who are not eligible for a vaccine in Phase 1 not call MGH or other clinics as they do not have additional information regarding the vaccine rollout.
MGH first began vaccinating eligible health care workers on Dec. 22 of last year, and then continued through January with vaccinations at East Toronto long-term care homes.
More information on the provincial vaccine plan is available on the government of Ontario website at https://covid-19.ontario.ca/getting-covid-19-vaccine-ontario
The City of Toronto plans to open a total of 49 vaccination clinics with hospitals and Ontario health teams, 46 vaccination clinics by community health centres, and 249 pharmacies that will operate under provincial direction.
“The sooner we have needles in arms – and the more needles in arms we have – the better off we all are,” de Villa said.
“In the meantime, we must remain vigilant and keep practising the measures for self-protection: stay at home as much as possible, keep as much physical distance you can from people you don’t live with, wear a well-fitting mask, and wash your hands often.”
Ali Raza is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.