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Weekend COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Hamilton was meant for ‘at-risk’ population, public health says

Syringes and a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19 sit on a general practitioners' table during a vaccination campaign Wednesday, April 14, 2021. AP Photo/Peter Dejong

Hamilton’s medical officer of health says the city will be holding COVID-19 vaccination clinics specifically for Black and racialized residents after a clinic at FirstOntario Centre scheduled for this weekend immediately filled up.

On Monday, public health sent an email to “equity-seeking groups” about the AstraZeneca clinic for those aged 40 and older, but word spread rapidly through social media, including through the popular Vaccine Hunter Canada Twitter account.

Read more: COVID-19 vaccination clinic for 40 and over in Hamilton fills up due to overwhelming response

During Wednesday’s general issues committee meeting, Dr. Elizabeth Richardson said the situation didn’t work out as they had intended.

“Social media is what it is, ultimately, in terms of where information goes, and this is part of the challenge, is then there’s a broad access in terms of people being able to get in, and we find that often those who are equity-seeking aren’t able to get there and get the access they need.”

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Details about the clinics were shared on Monday night by Vaccine Hunters Canada, a popular Twitter account that tracks information about COVID-19 vaccination clinics across the country.

In an email to Global News on Tuesday, a spokesperson for public health confirmed that a “pre-invitation and booking link” for the clinic, run by primary care providers, was sent to community partners and associations that represent at-risk populations late Monday.

“We understand that the nature of a vaccine rollout is challenging for many of our community members, especially those who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19,” said spokesperson James Berry.

“When it comes to increasing accessibility for racialized populations and marginalized populations, Hamilton’s Vaccine Task Force continues to make small, but important strides.”

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On Tuesday, both the April 24 and April 25 clinics at FirstOntario Centre were labelled as “full” on the city’s website.

Berry said plans for further clinics are being reviewed by public health’s primary care partners “due to the overwhelming response.”

Richardson told councillors on Wednesday that clinics in COVID-19 hot spots are one way of reaching disproportionately impacted groups – but acknowledges they aren’t quite targeted enough to reach specific groups in those neighbourhoods.

“We know as a disproportionately impacted group, we want to make sure that immunization rates reflect the degree of transmission and the size of the population, and we don’t feel that we are there yet. So we’re going to keep working on this to try and get those rates up.”

Ward 3 councillor Nrinder Nann said the city needs to have a more targeted approach for Black and racialized residents.

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“When we make these opportunities that we had the intention of having primarily be for that priority demographic, when we open up access and make it broad access, it just re-emphasizes and continues the experience of exclusion and leaves certain demographics on the side, especially for those who are not on social media.”

Richardson says she hopes there will be more clarity with the vaccine task force review that will have some decision by the end of the week.

Read more: Canada to see 1st Johnson & Johnson shipments next week, but no more until June

The city is also expecting updates to the province’s framework in the next few days which will give added direction.

The MOH believes an understanding of the vaccine prioritization framework and the rollout phase is really important since much of the onus is on an individual to learn when they are eligible for a shot.

“The first time that people become eligible for vaccine, if they can seek it out in whatever way that’s eligible, that’s ideal,” Richardson said.

As of April 22, the city has administered more than 164,000 COVID-19 vaccines with close to 65,000 administered through the fixed site at Hamilton Health Sciences.

The clinic at St. Joe’s has now administered about 36,000 doses, 24,000 of which have been through mobile clinics, 20,000 with the First Ontario site, 14,000 at pharmacies, and around 5,000 at primary care clinics.

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Read more: COVID-19: ‘Ring vaccination’ can teach us how to target limited supply

Around 28.4 per cent of the city’s eligible population over the age of 16 have received at least one dose as of Wednesday.

While pharmacies are booking anyone aged 40 and up for the AstraZeneca vaccine, the youngest demographic for which the city is accepting bookings as of Thursday is residents aged 50 and up in five Hamilton COVID-19 hot spots.

Vaccinations for the general public at the city’s mass clinics are still limited to those aged 60 years and older in this calendar year.

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