Thorncliffe and Flemingdon Park, both high-density neighbourhoods with a large volume of essential workers, are among the communities hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. Important steps were taken this past month to make rapid progress in vaccinating two of Ontario’s one hundred and eleven hot spots, in hopes to reduce the spread of the virus in priority neighbourhoods in East Toronto.

On 24 March 2021, the City of Toronto and East Toronto Health Partners (ETHP) opened a COVID-19 immunization site in Thorncliffe Park. It was Toronto’s tenth mass immunization location in the city, with others located in Scarborough Town Centre, Metro Toronto Convention Centre’s North Building, and Toronto Congress Centre.

Thanks to The Neighbourhood Organization (TNO), Flemingdon Health Centre (FHC) and Michael Garron Hospital (MGH), the mass immunization site is located in the Community Hub, a health and wellness centre at the East York Town Centre. The centre was strategically placed in the center of the community in hopes of reducing transportation barriers and increasing accessibility for residents.

Immunization Clinic Sign In Thorncliffe Park

Around 1 200 doses of the vaccine were expected to be distributed on the first day of administration. According to the City of Toronto, once vaccination supplies had increased, the goal was to vaccinate 10 000 people at the location daily. Seniors aged seventy-five and older as well as select east-end residents from priority populations were able to make an appointment online to be inoculated at the Community Hub. 

However, on 7 April 2021, the Thorncliffe Park Community Hub announced its closure of the clinic due to a lack of vaccine supply, and it hopes to reopen once supply issues are overcome. Michael Garron Hospital tweeted: “Thank you for your patience. We look forward to administering vaccines to community members as soon as supply is available” [1].

Fortunately, on 24 April 2021, residents with postal codes of M4H and M4C over the age of eighteen were able to get inoculated at the Community Hub. The location opened at 9:00 am and lasted until supplies ran out. 

Meanwhile, the ETHP’s mobile vaccination team has been administering vaccinations in community shelters, seniors’ congregated settings, and pop-up clinics. Their mobile vaccination teams aim to reduce barriers for residents who may face challenges accessing a public COVID-19 immunization clinic.

The ETHP is a group of over fifty community, hospital, home care, and social services organizations that work together to create an integrated system of care. Collectively, the team is responsible for providing support to 300 000 individuals living in the city’s east end as well as an additional 75 000 clients who choose to receive health care in the area.

The pop-up clinics are generally geared towards people who are hesitant to go to an indoor space or do not have the opportunity to pre-book appointments. They aim to make vaccinations easy and convenient for residents of priority neighbourhoods. The pop-up vaccine clinics are led by MGH, TNO, FHC, Health Access Thorncliffe Park (HATP) and East Toronto Family Practice Network (EasT-FPN), all of which are members of ETHP. The initiative is part of a strategy to quickly vaccinate a high number of people in at-risk neighbourhoods.

Five pop-up COVID-19 vaccine clinics took place in Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park from 7-11 April, including locations like the Flemingdon Park Shopping Centre, Masjid Darussalam, and courtyards of select high-rise apartment buildings. Clinic dates and times were being promoted locally by community organizations in these neighbourhoods through email, Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp.

On 7 April 2021, residents aged forty and older were eligible to receive their first dose at the Flemingdon Park vaccination clinic. The clinic opened at 9:30 am and, by the end of the day, a whopping seven hundred residents were vaccinated. Nazerah Shaikh, co-chair of the MGCI Parent Council described her experience waiting to get vaccinated at this clinic: “I was so happy to see locals lining up, as that was not the case at the vaccine clinic at East York Town Centre when my husband went as a waitlisted walk-in. Through the power of social media, we were able to share the locations and timings for the pop up clinics so graciously hosted and administered by Michael Garron Hospital in collaboration with local health agencies, nonprofits and businesses. On my way out, I knocked on my neighbour’s door and told her where I was headed. Noting my urgency, she immediately joined the very short and super-fast line at the pop-up clinic.” Nazerah mentioned that even though the community is nowhere in the clear of the pandemic, she feels a tiny tinge of relief as the COVID-19 vaccine continues to roll out, especially in harder hit areas like Flemingdon Park and Thorncliffe Park. 

“The only way out of this pandemic is through it and each of us can, and should, take responsibility for ourselves to the best of our abilities. Social distancing, masking, hand washing, and now, getting jabbed are the way to go!” she said. While waiting in line, she noticed some reservations from others who were concerned about which manufacturer’s vaccine was being given out, to which her response was, “a bird in the hand is better than three in a tree, or a needle in the arm is better than a wasted dose, so go and get yours, stat.”

Again on 18 April 2021, residents of Flemingdon Park and Thorncliffe Park aged eighteen and older were eligible for the vaccine at the Flemingdon location. Registration was not required, and it was suggested to bring a health card. Proof of address was required. 

In the neighbouring community, Thorncliffe park, pop-up vaccine clinics were open in the parking lot of Masjid Darusalaam on 9 April 2021 from 12:30 pm to 5 pm and in front of Iqbal Halal Foods on 10 April 2021 from 9:30 am to 5 pm. 

Hundreds of people arrived hours before the clinic opened, and lines went around the block. Water bottles were handed out to residents, while staff directed people and answered questions. Organizers said the clinic would be open on Sunday as well, while doses lasted. Over the span of two days, organizers had expected a vaccine roll out of 1 800. 

On 16 April 2021, COVID-19 vaccinations were available from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, or until vaccines ran out, at the Thorncliffe Park Public School in the gymnasium. Lines snaked through the front yard and into the parking lot. Mohammed Saad, a worker helping manage the lines, mentioned that he decided to work because it’s good community service. When asked about his experience, he noted, “It’s a mix of everything. There’s a lot of confusion with testing practises and common vaccination questions.”

Sharon Spencer, a TDSB teacher at Fraser Mustard Early Learning Academy, was eagerly waiting in the line. She said, “So far, not so bad. I was contemplating if I should come to this location, whether the line was going to be long or not. The line seems to be moving okay, everyone’s keeping their social distance, I’m feeling okay. I think I should be able to get one, I’m hoping.”

Nasrin Jahan, a teacher at Khairul Ummah Islamic School, was very hopeful as she was near the front of the lines. “I’m very near the line, there’s seven to eight people in front of me. After that, maybe I will get it. It’s nice, the TNO volunteers are helping us. There is no problem. So Insha’Allah when I get the vaccine it will work and maybe after three to four months we’ll get the second dose.”

TNO has been playing an important role in encouraging community members to get vaccinated. Over the past four months, community ambassadors have been knocking on doors; posting flyers about COVID-19 support at bus stops, apartment lobbies and stores; calling up residents to make sure they know how and where to get their vaccine; and receiving training from public health to answer any questions residents have about inoculation.

Hafiz Khan, a member of the MGCI Parent Council, encourages local residents to get vaccinated when available. “The vaccine, it’s safe and reliable. With the vaccine we see a light at the end of a tunnel; it gives us some hope that help is on the way. By doing this, we can keep ourselves, our family and our community safe and this will help out to bring life back to normal.”