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COVID-19 vaccinators: Meet the healthcare workers who are doling out shots

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Six months since the kick-off in December, Canada’s COVID-19 vaccinate rollout has picked up pace across the country — and the people doling out the shots are hard at work.

As of Friday, more than 17.5 million doses had been administered across all provinces and territories, according to Esri Canada, which is tracking the country’s COVID-19 data.

Read more: Front-line health workers in Canada look back on ‘rollercoaster’ year of COVID-19

More than 16 million Canadians or about 42 per cent of the population, have received at least one dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine, whereas 1.3 million (three per cent) are fully vaccinated with two doses, data from COVID-19 Tracker Canada showed.

While getting a vaccine has brought relief and joy for many, vaccinators say giving the shots has been a rewarding experience for them as well.

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“For somebody who was looking after the sickest of the sickest patients when this pandemic started to now be on the backend and hopefully potentially preventing people from getting sick again is tremendous,” said Dr. Kevin Shine, an anesthesiologist at Trillium Health Partners (THP) in Ontario.

Shine, 63, has been part of the vaccination program since the start in December. From vaccinating some 300 people a day, THP’s two vaccine centres in Mississauga, Ont., are now administering between 1,300 to 4,000 vaccines daily per site.

“Every vaccinator can do somewhere between 10 and 12 vaccines an hour without any difficulty,” Shine says.

“The only thing that limits us now is space.”

Dr. Kevin Shine of Trillium Health Partners. Supplied

A vaccinator is a healthcare practitioner who is authorized to perform intramuscular injections. These professionals have signed up to take on the extra responsibility outside of their day job amid the pandemic — and many of them help out on the weekends.

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Some healthcare workers have also come out of retirement to serve their community.

Donna Ramlogan, a registered nurse who lives in a hot spot zone in Toronto, is among them.

She is working as a team lead and vaccinator at the COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Downsview Arena run by Humber River Hospital.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” Ramlogan said.

“It gives me the sense of feeling that I am giving something towards the community.”

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Humber River Hospital is operating two on-site vaccine clinics and 95 mobile clinics in northwestern Toronto. Some 200 staff members, physicians and volunteers are involved. As of Friday, 118,591 doses had been administered by the hospital across the city.

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Vaccine recipients are asked a set of questions when they come in, including about their allergies, health issues, pregnancy, past vaccinations, COVID-19 exposure and symptoms.

People who are COVID-19 positive or are isolating due to exposure are not eligible to get the shots.

“Sometimes we do get people very eager to get vaccinated that come in and aren’t eligible to be vaccinated,” said Jane Corelius, co-manager of the vaccine clinic at Downsview Arena.

The Downsview Arena vaccination site in Toronto, Ont., opened up on March 31. Photo credit: Humber River Hospital
Selfies and photographs are a common theme at vaccine clinics. Photo credit: Humber River Hospital

While most of the people are excited to get the shots and take selfies, others also have questions and concerns, vaccinators say.

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Anitasha Puodziunas, who recently retired from a career in oncology pharmacy, has been part of the crew at Downsview Arena since the clinic opened on March 31.

Read more: Pharmacies plead with provinces for access to other COVID-19 vaccines

The 63-year-old retiree said a common theme she has noticed is that people are apprehensive about needles.

“I find that people are always coming in saying, ‘I don’t like needles.’ That’s absolutely the first thing.”

Puodziunas said she has vaccinated people who have lost family members to COVID-19, saying how important it was for them to get the vaccine. But she is yet to have a negative experience.

She said she’s had people who seemed as happy as they could be and people who were in tears because it was such an emotional experience for them.

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In the month of May, Canada has seen a significant increase in vaccine supplies. Next week alone, officials say Canada is expected to receive 4.5 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech  and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines.

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As provinces continue to ramp up their immunization efforts, vaccinators are also keeping personal score.

Registered nurse Judie Elliott surpassed her goal of 100 people per day last Saturday, vaccinating at the THP sites.

“I think I could get that number up to 150,” the 63-year-old said laughing.

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Judie Elliot has been vaccinating since the beginning of March at THP’s University of Toronto Mississauga site. Supplied

While juggling a full-time job as an advance care paramedic, Brian Mak has vaccinated approximately 550 people so far in three weeks. He says he averages 90 to 120 doses per day.

The 33-year-old underwent vaccine training before taking on the role.

After a challenging year battling on the frontlines of the pandemic, he said the vaccine clinic is a refreshing change of scenery for him.

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“I think one of the keywords is optimism — that normal is coming back,” he told Global News.

“Interaction and being able to see our loved ones on a regular basis is the goal.”

Brian Mak says it has been great vaccinating people of all ages. Supplied

— with files from the Canadian Press.

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