280 ‘neighbourhood ambassadors’ to promote vaccination in Toronto

Toronto has released its vaccine playbook, as efforts gear up to get people inoculated. Mark McAllister has where many Torontonians will eventually get their shots, and how the city plans to deliver to seniors and vulnerable communities.

By Dilshad Burman

The City of Toronto is rolling out a “neighbourhood ambassador” program to help promote vaccinations in the city.

Councillor Joe Cressy announced the program in the city’s daily COVID-19 briefing on Monday as part of a “community-based vaccine campaign to support vaccine uptake, to tackle vaccine hesitancy and to engage targeted hard hit communities.”

Cressy said the plan will be the largest community mobilization effort in the city’s history. It aims to aid the goal of reaching herd immunity and vaccinating over 70 per cent of the population by “building trust and ensuring access” to the vaccine.

For the first component of the plan, the city is partnering with local neighbourhood leaders across the city to maximize reach and is bringing on board 280 neighbourhood ambassadors to promote vaccines in their communities.

Cressy said research has long shown that people are more likely to take vaccines “when it’s people they trust who are making the case.”

“Your local priest or your pastor or your rabbi or your imam, your barber, your crossing guard, the kids’ soccer coach — trusted local leaders to help make the case, provide information and help their neighbours access the vaccine — that’s what 280 neighborhood ambassadors will do,” said Cressy.

The second component of the plan involves partnering with 140 community agencies and a number of “anchor agencies” to mobilize vaccines in the neighbourhoods in which they operate.

These will be trusted, local community organizations that will go door-to-door to promote vaccines, “to confront vaccine hesitancy” and help the city identify and organize locations for mobile pop-up vaccination sites, Cressy said.

The third part of the plan involves targeted outreach in communities that have been hit hard by COVID-19.

“When it comes to COVID, we’re not all equal. The data has made this abundantly clear,” said Cressy. “So an effective campaign for vaccines requires tailored approaches to engage different communities.”

To that end, city staff are working with local organizations to create specific campaigns for Toronto’s diverse communities including Indigenous, South Asian and Muslim people, seniors and persons with disabilities. Cressy added that the city’s Black scientist task force is already part of the city’s vaccine plans and is working with and supporting the Black community.

Cressy called the plan the “opposite of a one-size-fits-all vaccine approach.”

“You can think of it almost as an election,” said Cressy. “But in this case we need to win more than 70 per cent of the vote and we need absolutely everyone working together on the ground to get residents to the polls or in this case to the vaccine clinics.”

RELATED: Toronto releases vaccine playbook

The program is part of Toronto’s larger vaccine playbook revealed Monday, which includes nine mass vaccinations sites and training 1,400 staff. Other vaccination locations include 49 hospital-operated sites, 46 community health centre sites and 249 pharmacies.

Toronto will not be setting up its own booking system to schedule appointments, but will be using the province’s system instead in order to gather more information on a larger scale.

In terms of prioritization, the province has expanded phase 1 of the rollout to include those experiencing homelessness, who began getting vaccinated this week in Toronto. Those 80 and older have also been included in phase 1, adding over 130,000 to the city’s list and Toronto still has 100,000 healthcare workers waiting to be vaccinated as well.

As has been the case since day one however, the city says much depends on vaccine supply.

“The more free flowing vaccine supply comes the easier it becomes for us to really start addressing needs across the broad range of populations,” said Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health.

With files from Mark McAllister

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