From a campaign to combat vaccine hesitancy to the launch of a vaccination clinic in Brampton, the group behind the This Is Our Shot campaign has turned community advocacy into concrete action.
The brainchild of the South Asian COVID Task Force, the campaign was launched on April 28 in collaboration with 19 to Zero, Latin American COVID Task Force, Black Physicians of Canada, Canadian Muslim COVID-19 Task Force, Siksika Health Services and Black North Initiative.
It also recruited celebrities of all stripes to help promote vaccination, held townhalls with experts and continues to dispel fears with vaccine FAQs in 27 languages on their website. Proceeds from sales of their signature t-shirts go to Kids Help Phone and so far the campaign has raised over $90,000.
Less than three weeks after the campaign kick off, the task force along with Peel Public Health launched a vaccine clinic at the Embassy Grand Banquet Hall in the L6P postal code in Brampton — the same location they opened a COVID-19 testing centre in January of this year, which was the first in the area.
The clinic is run by Dr. Raj Grewal and Dr. Priya Suppal and provides services in English, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi and French.
“It was incredibly important for us to have the ability to test and more importantly vaccinate our community members in a setting that is easy for them to get to,” Dr. Suppal told CityNews. “They are very familiar with the Embassy Grand. I think there’s not one single person in L6P or in Brampton who hasn’t attended a function [there], so bringing that trust and familiarity to the patients was incredibly important.”
She added that most of the doctors and nurses working at the site have strong ties to Peel Region and are well versed with the community’s needs.
“One of the doctor’s that is vaccinating with us … he said ‘you know what? The last time I was in this hall, I was getting married’. So it’s a really nice way of helping our community,” she said.
Dr. Suppal, who has lived and worked in Peel for over 27 years, said the clinic was vital in the L6P area as the community is home to many essential workers. The Embassy Grand testing clinic saw COVID-19 test positivity rates of over 20 per cent at the peak of the pandemic’s third wave — among the highest in the country. She said that a culturally sensitive approach was also necessary and welcomed in the community.
“When patients come to us … there are those of us who look like them, who speak in a language that they are able to understand and also understand some of the cultural nuances that perhaps make delivery of healthcare a bit of an issue,” she said. “We’re able to tackle vaccine hesitancy in a way that is understandable to these patients … because we understand that demographic, we understand that background, we understand the culture. So we can speak to those things in a slightly different way than perhaps someone who is not familiar with the culture.”
In a statement, Dr. Grewal echoed those sentiments, saying the specific needs of the community made it necessary to advocate for a clinic within in.
“Growing up in the L6P postal code, where my parents still live, I know as both a doctor and a community member, there is a huge need for vaccine clinics that are accessible and have staff available in multiple languages,” he said. “The latter is key as it provides an opportunity to build vaccine confidence and receive information from healthcare professionals that speak and look like the residents of the communities they are trying to protect.”
The staff at the clinic also strive to maintain an upbeat atmosphere with music and DJs as well as a This Is Our Shot selfie booth to inspire people to share their photos and encourage others to get vaccinated.
The clinic has ten vaccinators and can administer 650 vaccine shots per day. It is open seven days a week from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. to accommodate workers serving in healthcare, transport and other essential fields who work irregular hours.
Appointments can be booked via a unique multi-lingual online portal and phone line that was developed by North60 Technologies — a local medical intelligence company. It involves a call centre as well as a mobile app called MDnius that helps patients book tests or appointments in five different languages.
“It allows constant communication with our patients,” said Dr. Suppal. “I like to think of it as a local solution to a global problem.”
Peel Region’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh and mayor Patrick Brown have offered their support and commended the South Asian COVID Task Force for their efforts to help achieve the goal of 75 per cent first dose vaccinations within the Peel community.
The site, which is a permanent vaccine clinic, is set to run through the end of the year, but Dr. Suppal says there are plenty of appointments available daily.
“With all the vaccine that’s come in, we’re shortening the interval between doses … so our hope is that we don’t need to be there until December and that we get everyone done as quickly as possible,” she said.
Dr. Anju Anand, a member of the task force and co-chair of the This Is Our Shot campaign said the clinic represents a ray of hope and light at the end of what has been a long, dark tunnel.
“We ask each person what they want to do after they get the vaccine and listening to their answers just makes me so hopeful that we will slowly come out of this together,” she said in a statement.