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Initiatives launched to battle COVID-19 vaccination barriers as Ontario accelerates rollout

Friday, April 30, 2021 @ 4:29 PM | By John Schofield

The City of Toronto is teaming up with two community organizations to reduce barriers to COVID-19 vaccination as Ontario accelerates its vaccine rollout.

Meanwhile, Ottawa announced $1.75 million in funding for a national social media project spearheaded by a University of Alberta faculty of law professor that is designed to counter misinformation about COVID-19.

In a bid to reach residents without Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) cards, Toronto announced in an April 30 news release that it is partnering with two community organizations, FCJ Refugee Centre and Access Alliance, a multicultural health and community services agency.

Residents without OHIP cards who meet the current vaccine eligibility criteria can get assistance booking a vaccination appointment at a city-operated immunization clinic by contacting FCJ Refugee Centre at 416-469-9754 (ext. 230 or 232) between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday to Friday or by e-mail at Access Alliance may be contacted at 416-760-8677, or those without an OHIP card can call the Toronto Public Health Hotline at 416-338-7600 from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

Residents without an OHIP card may use other forms of identification to book their COVID-19 vaccination appointment, including a driver’s licence, passport, a piece of registered mail, a pay stub or student card. Government-issued identification from other jurisdictions and countries, including a passport, driver’s licence or health card may also be used, even if they are expired. Residents without an OHIP card can also book their COVID-19 vaccination appointment through hospitals and Ontario Health Team-led clinics by visiting here.

The Ontario government has stated that individuals without a health card are still eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. In early April, people without a valid Ontario health card were reportedly unable to book an appointment at any of Toronto’s mass vaccination clinics.

“Today’s announcement is welcome news and an important step towards an equitable process that ensures all those who want a vaccine — regardless of their immigration status — can get one,” Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, said in the news release.

The Ontario government announced in an April 29 news release that, with increased vaccine shipments, it expects to expand eligibility for vaccination to all those aged 18 and older as early as May 24.

As of April 30, individuals aged 55 and older are now eligible to book a vaccine appointment through the province’s online booking system at A pilot project was also scheduled to start April 30 that will see the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine administered through selected pharmacies in COVID-19 hot spot areas in Toronto and Peel Region.

During the weeks of May 3 and May 10, the government announced, 50 per cent of vaccine allocations will be allocated to hot spots through mobile teams, pop-up clinics, mass immunization clinics, hospitals, primary care and pharmacies. The first employer-operated workplace clinics were also scheduled to launch in hot spot communities Peel Region during the week of April 26.

Approximately 800,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine are expected to arrive in Ontario per week at the start of May, ramping up to 940,000 doses per week by the end of May, according to the government news release.

However, some Toronto residents continued to express frustration with Ontario’s vaccine rollout, especially at pop-up clinics. In an April 29 Tweet, Diana Duong, a reporter with the Canadian Medical Association Journal, said, “People have been waiting since midnight at Scarborough’s M1P vaccine pop-up. (We got here 5:30 am)

“Line loops 4x around football field and still growing,” she added. “Everyone’s chill and orderly but I know we’re not seeing such lineups in Forest Hill, Bridle Path, etc #vaccineinequity.”

On the federal front, University of Alberta law professor Timothy Caulfield welcomed the news of Ottawa's support for his ScienceUpFirst project, which is aimed at addressing misinformation by giving Canadians the tools to amplify science-based information about COVID-19 and vaccines.

The national initiative draws on a network of scientists, health-care providers and science communicators to debunk misinformation with credible COVID-19 facts and works to reach vulnerable populations with culturally relevant and scientifically accurate COVID-19 information.

“The spread of misinformation does real harm,” Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Health & Law Policy and research director of U of A’s Health Law Institute said in an April 29 university news release.

“It is having, for example, an adverse impact on vaccine uptake and on the adoption of preventative public health strategies,” he added. “It is also fuelling fears and polarized public discourse. With ScienceUpFirst, we are countering misinformation on social media with proven strategies: humour, creativity, empathy, and the best available scientific evidence.”

On April 30, Ontario reported 21 virus-related deaths and 3,887 new cases of COVID-19, the sixth consecutive day that the new case count came in under 4,000. The rolling, seven-day average of new cases reached 3,722, down from 4,132 on April 23. However, the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units remains disturbingly high at 883.

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