Advocates say COVID-19 'vaccine desert' leaves racialized communities behind in rollout
TORONTO -- Medical health advocates say some communities most in need of COVID-19 vaccinations have the least access to it.
Ananya Tina Banerjee, from the faculty at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, says she’s frustrated with how racialized communities have been treated during the pandemic.
“I was really hopeful given that Ontario, particularly Toronto Public Health and Peel Public Health, really reinforced the idea of collecting race-based data and how this was important, as well as data on neighbourhoods and low-income neighbourhoods,” she said.
Banerjee said she thought the goal of the data collection was to make sure no one would be “left behind“ during the pandemic.
“It’s clear this data is not being used,” she said.
Many of the people living in Toronto’s hardest-hit neighbourhoods, such as Thorncliffe, York University Heights, and Downsview-Roding-CFB, are front-line workers, Banerjee said.
“The majority of people in these neighbourhoods are working in transportation, warehouses, manufacturing — they’re travelling on crowded routes,” she said.
People 60 and up can get COVID-19 vaccinations at some pharmacies and clinics through a pilot program, but in a City of Toronto map showing participating vaccine clinic sites, there is a glaring gap in some areas — including Toronto’s northwest end.
“If we had just utilized family physicians and primary care teams right from day one we probably wouldn’t see these gaps,” said Dr. Naheed Dosani, palliative care physician and health-justice advocate.
Dr. Dosani referred to the gaps as vaccine deserts.
Nevzat Kezin, who lives in Thorncliffe, says wants to get vaccinated as soon as he can.
His Toronto neighbourhood is densely-populated, occupied by minorities living in multi-generational households.
Advocates say it could take a family multiple days to get everyone vaccinated, especially if they have to travel far.
“Are we taking this into account? If people have to travel far to get a vaccination they’re going to have to take a whole day off,” Banerjee said.
While the push for accessibility continues, there is welcome news in Peel Region where vaccination time-slots are available for the first time.
“We’re relieved that Peel’s now been included in the pharmacy roll-out,” said Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown.
“It was bewildering that we weren’t included in the first place, we have the highest positivity rate in the province,” he said.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford has said the province has plans on expanding the number of pharmacies offering vaccinations — it’s unclear when or where.