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COVID-19: Black London Network serves food, tunes and vaccines at pop-up clinic

Volunteers with Black London Network serve up free food from Richie's Caribbean Restaurant for visitors to Friday's pop-up clinic. Andrew Graham / Global News

A collaboration between a local advocacy group and regional health officials brought together a healthy serving of food, music and COVID-19 vaccines to east London, Ont., on Friday.

Black London Network (BLN), in partnership with the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU), played host to the pop-up clinic at St. Pius X Catholic Elementary School which aimed to bring a lively and welcoming atmosphere for those seeking a shot.

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The idea for the clinic came to Mabel Kane, a vaccinator with MLHU, when she noticed a lack of representation for racialized individuals inside the health unit’s mass vaccination clinics in London and Middlesex County.

“I decided to just send a message to the higher-ups to see if there was anything that we can do to increase vaccine uptake in the visible minority communities,” Kane said.

“They were really responsive and wanted to help… (medical officer of health) Dr. Mackie was behind this all the way.”

Read more: Access to COVID-19 vaccines a challenge in BIPOC communities. Here’s why

Along with a shot of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, visitors were also treated to a free dinner from Richie’s Caribbean Restaurant along with family-friendly music curated by DJ Joze from 1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

BLN founding member Alexandra Kane says Friday’s clinic followed a model used by similar events in Toronto.

“A lot of the Black-focused pop-up clinics were featuring live music and food just because that’s how Black people like to gather and that’s how they feel safe and comfortable,” said Alexandra, who also serves as lead activist for Black Lives Matter London.

“MLHU provided Black nurses to administer these vaccines, Black staff so that Black people can feel really, really comfortable about asking their questions… believing staff and believing people that look like them.”

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MLHU vaccinator Mabel Kane stands alongside her daughter Alexandra Kane, a founding member of BLN who also serves as lead activist for Black Lives Matter London. Andrew Graham / Global News

Adithya Yadav Madasu found the pop-up clinic while he was searching online for vaccination options during his day off from work.

While he didn’t have time to enjoy the food, he said the clinic worked perfect for someone with a busy schedule.

“It’s easy to come here and the service is also very good, it’s very fast,” Madasu said.

“If you conduct these kind of clinics, for sure everybody has a chance to get vaccinated, rather than taking appointments (because) sometimes it delays them from getting vaccinated.”

Read more: Before rolling out vaccines to Black Canadian communities, advocates call on governments to rebuild trust

Cassandra Campbell and her daughter Chantel also had rave reviews for Friday’s clinic after the pair arrived to get their second doses.

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“As soon as we walked in here, we were seated immediately and we managed to get it quickly, and then we came outside and they were blasting music with the food. Overall, it was just a really good atmosphere,” Chantel said.

“If I was giving it stars, out of five stars I would give it a six,” Cassandra added.

Cassandra Campbell and her daughter Chantel said they enjoyed the laid back atmosphere and quick vaccination process provided by Friday’s clinic. Andrew Graham / Global News

Friday’s clinic is the latest effort from the MLHU as the health unit pivots away from focusing solely on mass vaccination clinics toward providing shots in a mobile method throughout the region.

Associate medical officer of health Dr. Alex Summers says part of that method involves allowing groups such as Black London Network to lead the charge for getting the communities they represent vaccinated.

“We know that the greatest encouragement to get vaccinated is when someone you know and trust encourages you to get vaccinated,” Summers said.

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“There is certainly a willingness, a huge willingness, on our part to work with communities. We’ve got lots of plans unfolding, exactly like (Friday’s pop-up clinic), over August.”

Read more: MLHU announces new hours at mass vaccination clinics for August

Past targeted efforts include a collaboration with the The Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre, N’Amerind Friendship Centre and Atlohsa Family Healing Services for a clinic aimed at serving Indigenous youth.

Other efforts have also been tied to targeting locations, such as a two-day clinic in Dorchester that popped up in late May.

A list of upcoming pop-up clinics can be found on the MLHU’s website.

As for BLN’s efforts, Alexandra hopes the group will be able to host similar events in the future, especially given the reception they saw from Londoners.

“We posted it online and people were amazed and great. They’re like, ‘I wanna come for the music, I wanna come for the food,'” Alexandra said.

“Yes, come, let’s get this done, let’s take care of us.”

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