‘Nice that you have somewhere close by’: Toronto libraries host COVID vaccine clinics

A pharmacist and draws up a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

TORONTO — Ege Kok had been searching for weeks for somewhere in her north Toronto neighbourhood where she could easily get a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

She’d received her second dose last summer but found it tough to secure a third when the province made them available for all Ontarians in late December.

This week, while scouring the internet for pop-up clinics, she learned of a walk-in site opening at a local library branch just a 10-minute bus ride away from her home.

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By Thursday afternoon, both 31-year-old Kok and her mother were able to get their boosters in the library’s glass-walled conference room where half a dozen vaccine stations had been set up.

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“It’s nice that you have somewhere close by, you don’t have to go downtown. I just feel lucky. Finally I got it,” Kok said in an interview at the Maria A. Shchuka Library.

The library clinic is part of the City of Toronto’s new “Vax and Read” campaign that launched this week as part of a hyper-local strategy to target areas with low vaccine uptake.

Twelve public libraries will host walk-in vaccine clinics on various days until March 16.

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Kok, a retail worker, said she was glad to see a library clinic in her densely populated neighbourhood, which hosts many immigrant households.

“I feel like (the neighbourhood) has that stigma to it, so it’s not really cared (about). People don’t think ‘oh let’s have a clinic,”’ Kok said.

Alison Harris, senior branch head at the location where Kok got her booster, said residents in the neighbourhood have experienced unique challenges gaining access to vaccines and the library offers an easily accessible site.

“We have a lot of lower-income people, so because they are working different shifts, they don’t have that opportunity to get out to the general city-run clinics,” said Harris. “When they come into a library, it’s a familiar space for them.”

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Part of the importance of offering vaccines in a dedicated familiar space for certain neighbourhoods relates to what public health and physicians learned during the pandemic, said Dr. Alia Dharamsi, a physician with the University Health Network who was administering shots at the library.

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“One of the things we really learned through COVID-19 is some of the inequality around the city,” said Dharamsi.

“We know that if you work evenings or nights, or you work long days, or you don’t have access to a car, or transit is difficult (or) you have accessibility challenges, if we can come to you in your home, in your community centre, in an arena, in a library, if we can come to where you are, it makes it a lot easier.”

The “Vax And Read” pop-up clinics will operate on a walk-in basis with no registration or appointment necessary.

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The City of Toronto said the sites will have both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and will offer first, second, third and pediatric doses.

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