On a sunny Spring afternoon, a line has formed leading to General Mercer Junior Public School in Toronto. There is a big white tent and live music and laughter can be heard playing in the distance, and the atmosphere is festive.
What looks like a school fair and feels like a carnival is actually a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination site run by Women’s College Hospital.
“This vibe is exactly what I wanted it to be,” said Janelle Noel, vaccination site lead.
“We’re celebrating vaccines. We’re celebrating people. We’re celebrating coming out of your house, everything that’s to do with getting better.”
Behind the scenes in the school gymnasium a team could be seen working diligently to prepare doses of the Moderna vaccine for the arms of those waiting outside.
It is a careful and concentrated effort by a group of nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacy technicians and other healthcare staff.
“What we do here is essentially prep and make the vaccines. We’re ensuring that we’re following proper protocols and following the guidelines by our hospital and also the ministry to make sure that we get these doses out as efficient and safe as possible and give it to everyone who deserves it in an equitable way,” explained registered practical nurse Krissha Fortuna.
They are the unsung heroes of Ontario’s vaccine rollout, deployed from other health care positions to be part of the vaccine distribution process and set up shop in school gyms, locker rooms, and other venues to get the vaccines into the arms of the public.
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“I meet a taxi driver. I meet an Uber driver. I meet anybody on the street, I tell them to go get vaccinated when you can get it,” said Fortuna.
She previously worked in long-term care where she said she contracted COVID-19 in the first wave of the pandemic.
“I’m fully recovered now but that was still very scary because it was very early on … vaccine was not even a thing at that time and I saw a lot of deaths so it was difficult but now it’s kind of like moving on to a better, positive chapter,” added Fortuna.
Noel also contracted COVID-19 and recovered. She said it is part of the driving force behind her efforts to get those living in hot spots vaccinated as quickly as possible.
“They were traumatized, they were affected by the fact that their schools had outbreaks, and just as a holistic approach to come back and be a part of the solution and the vaccination … I think that that was one of the reasons that we actually decided to come back to some of these schools that we are at,” said Noel.
Primary care nurse practitioner Lauren Scott called it a “privilege” to be part of this phase of the pandemic. She is part of the emergency medical assistance team for Ontario and provided care when Canadians returned home from Wuhan, China.
“I was actually there in the airport hangar when the planes landed and actually did one of the first COVID swabs in Canada in the negative pressure tent when we really had no idea what we were dealing with. So now to come here on a beautiful day fifteen months later and being able to give this lifesaving vaccine is truly a privilege,” she said.
They are helping to save lives and changing their own along the way.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in the future. I was thinking about nursing, but I wasn’t entirely sure,” said Jennifer de la Franier, who is working vaccine oversight.
“Seeing just how much of a team it takes, it’s really solidified my decision to go into nursing. So I’m going into nursing in the fall.”