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Breaking down barriers: How newcomers to Saskatchewan are accessing COVID-19 vaccines

Click to play video: 'How newcomers to Saskatchewan are accessing COVID-19 vaccines' How newcomers to Saskatchewan are accessing COVID-19 vaccines
WATCH: A couple new to Regina are newly vaccinated and navigating the system, with help from community groups – Jun 2, 2021

Rima and Abdullah Nasser have been doing their best to follow the public health measures and guidance from officials to protect themselves, their family and their community from COVID-19.

Making the move to Regina from Turkey during the pandemic has been challenging for the couple and their kids, who only arrived in February.

And as vaccines have been rolling out across the province, figuring out how to get immunized while facing language and transportation barriers has been tough, said Abdullah Nasser in Arabic, through interpreter May Farhat.

“They don’t know how to book an appointment, how to take a cab or take a bus or just go to the location,” Farhat explained following an exchange with the couple.

“The presence of the Open Door was really essential.”

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Read more: ‘Everyone is at risk’: Migrants and undocumented workers need the COVID-19 vaccine too

Farhat is talking about the Regina Open Door Society, which, in partnership with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), organized a special vaccination clinic for the newcomers it works with, such as the Nassers, on May 11, providing first doses to 250 people.

“Our goal is to take away as many barriers as possible,” explained Victoria Flores, of the Open Door Society.

A big part of the strategy for the Open Door Society, and other organizations, like the Global Gathering Place in Saskatoon, that have similarly partnered with the SHA, has been directly reaching out to clients to ask what they need help with.

“We knew we were going to have to book in a huge number of clients,” said Lori Steward, of the Global Gathering Place, who began thinking about the situation ahead of the vaccine rollout.

Because navigating mainstream organizations can be difficult for newcomers at the best of times, Steward said holding clinics for refugees and others who are vulnerable was the logical solution.

“Our clients are very eager to get vaccinated and very happy to be vaccinated,” Steward said, noting that more than 300 people have been vaccinated through the Global Gathering Place over two clinics so far.

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Read more: Saskatchewan grocery store worker navigates coronavirus pandemic while learning English

Dr. Satchan Takaya, the SHA’s pandemic chief of staff for Saskatoon, has made a point of being involved and thinks there are important lessons for bridging health care gaps going forward.

She noted how clients with ties to the Refugee Engagement and Community Health (REACH) clinic in Saskatoon responded to seeing their doctors on site at the Global Gathering Place.

“They would see their doc and run over to them to get the vaccine from that doctor,” said Takaya. “The connection and the familiarity is really important, I think, for these people that the health care system is new to.”

Through her experiences working at St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon, she attests to the issues people face accessing it.

“Those have become even more evident a we try to get vaccine out to these groups,” Takaya said.

She said continuing with outreach and relationship building is an important part of developing a more inclusive system.

Click to play video: 'Saskatoon health-care team calls for more services for refugees' Saskatoon health-care team calls for more services for refugees
Saskatoon health-care team calls for more services for refugees – May 7, 2021

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