As Ontario prepares to enter Step 3 in its Roadmap to Reopen, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones announced in a recent press conference that the province’s vaccination plan is ahead of schedule.
“The province has reached another milestone in our path towards a two-dose summer, with more than half of all adults in Ontario having received a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine,” stated Jones.
As of July 8, more than of adults in Ontario have at least one dose of the vaccine. But as these numbers rise, experts are stressing the need to focus on the remaining 20 to 25 per cent of Ontarians who are as yet unvaccinated.
“Many of the cases we are currently seeing are from people not yet vaccinated,” said Jones. “Between May 15 and June 12, 83 per cent of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ontario were from unvaccinated individuals, which shows how important it is to get a vaccine and get protected.”
Sabina Vohra-Miller is the co-founder of the South Asian Health Network, and specializes in science outreach on her blog Unambiguous Science. She told Yahoo Canada that while “the efforts so far have been remarkable,” the remaining 25 per cent will take “double the effort.”
“It’s actually going to be a lot more work, for smaller margins,” said Vohra-Miller, who holds a Masters of Science in clinical pharmacology. She stressed that the remaining group of those who are currently unvaccinated is “not a homogenous group,” and that it will take myriad strategies to promote the vaccine.
Reasons why Canadians haven't received vaccine vary widely
“One of the things I think we could be doing a much better job on are people who have barriers to mobility or accessibility,” she said. These include homebound seniors, or individuals with chronic medical conditions that may prevent them from being able to attend a pop-up clinic or vaccine appointment, even in their own neighbourhoods.
To address this issue, Vohra-Miller says what Ontarians need is “more door-to-door residential vaccine appointments.” Another benefit of these door-to-door appointments, she adds, could be creating a safer environment to vaccinate those with anxiety related to needles or medical facilities.
“When we think about accessibility, we rarely think about someone who has anxiety towards needles, or medical facilities,” she said. “But they’re actually a fairly large percentage of the population, so that’s basically what it’s coming down to when we’re talking about the last mile that we need to vaccinate.”
Vohra-Miller identified migrant and undocumented workers as another priority in making the vaccine accessible to all.
“Before COVID, how many of us were aware of the fact that our farms had mostly migrant workers? When we think about undocumented workers, we think more about the U.S.,” she said. “We don’t think about that situation in Canada, but we actually do have a significant portion of undocumented workers here.”
She stressed the importance of “barrier-free” vaccine clinics for those who might not have government-issued ID or OHIP cards.
There are those who are scared, because they hear rumours that government people are at the vaccine clinic, and they’re going to be deported.Sabina Vohra-Miller, South Asian Health Network
“We have to make this a safe process for them, where they feel that their safety is not going to be jeopardized because they went and got a vaccine.” As a strategy to address this, Vohra-Miller suggested bringing such barrier-free vaccine clinics to other environments, such as workplaces.
Finally, Vohra-Miller identified the need for sick pay as vital in addressing the remaining percentage of unvaccinated Ontarians who do want a vaccine, but currently cannot get one.
“A lot of people who are working multiple jobs — racialized essential workers especially — don’t have the luxury to take time off if they have side effects,” she said. “Just having that security blanket is so important.”