By Lincoln DePradine
Black Canadians, who have been among those most severely impacted by the Coronavirus, are also facing limited access to COVID-19 vaccines or are hesitant at getting inoculated against the deadly virus.
Community-serving agencies such as the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) and CAFCAN – a not-for-profit agency working with African-Canadian children, youth and families – have been involved in taking corrective measures by organizing vaccine clinics.
This weekend, on Saturday and Sunday, the JCA centre at 995 Arrow Road in North York is the venue of a “COVID-19 Vaccine Information & Pop-Up Clinic for the Black, African & Caribbean Communities’’.
The event complements a call for “ring-fencing of vaccine doses’’ through “collaboration with agencies serving Black populations’’.
The call was made by the Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity in a report to the City of Toronto’s board of health.
Among the many recommendations in the report are an appeal for the city to support “walk-in vaccinations with simplified registration requirement’’, and to set aside vaccines “specifically for members of high-risk Black and racialized communities’’.
The task force submitted the recommendations after a series of community outreach meetings and townhalls that ran from February 1 to June 9.
Dr Akwatu Khenti, chair of the task force, welcomes this weekend’s “COVID-19 Vaccine Information & Pop-Up Clinic’’, which is backed by several community organizations such as the Black Physicians of Ontario; Black Creek Community Health Centre; and the Canadian Black Clergy and Allies.
It’s also endorsed by the Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity and the City of Toronto’s Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit.
“These clinics are important. There are nine postal codes in Toronto where there’s significant vaccine discrepancy in terms of the number of people vaccinated,’’ Khenti told the Caribbean Camera. “No stone must be left unturned in trying to get members of these communities vaccinated. Although exemplary efforts have been made by the City of Toronto, the race is far from over. We cannot yet say that we have harnessed all our assets to meet the vaccine equity challenges of this pandemic.”
Khenti, a specialist in health and policy equity, said there are neighbourhoods – home to many of the city’s essential workers – where new incidences of COVID-19 continue to occur.
“Without 10 sick days, there seems to be little real leverage to get such precariously employed folks to risk missing a paycheque,’’ he emphasized. “The Black Scientists’ Task Force insists that the province can – and must – do better in this regard. Ten days during the pandemic are minimally required, given the quarantining period.’’
According to the task force’s report, chronic disease impacts Black people across education and income levels in racializing ways that are distinct from other populations where income and education are protective factors.
COVID-19 hospitalization rates and mortality risks faced by hardworking Black and racialized residents in Toronto neighbourhoods “cannot be accepted as a new status quo’’, said Khenti.
“The higher racialized mortality rates from COVID-19 are not simply a reflection of COVID-19 inequities but are reflective of racial injustices that are longstanding,’’ he said.
“The task force calls upon the province to provide a steady oversupply of vaccine to such communities as had occurred in early May when vaccination rates began to make huge gains. The provincial government did not maintain the equity priority, however, and vaccination disparities once again expanded outwards as soon as they stopped giving priority to such communities,’’ said Khenti.
“These vaccination inequities now appear to be stuck. The province is also being urged to institute race-based data across healthcare, using OHIP as a foundation so that Black communities are not left in the dark about their healthcare issues.’’
For the weekend clinics, an ID is requested but vaccine seekers are not required to present an Ontario Health Insurance (OHIP) card, organizers say, adding that the jab will be given to anyone 12 years and older.
They explain that there will be first doses for some and second doses for others, and it will be on a “first-come, first-serve’’ basis.
“Black communities deserve the very best efforts from all its community organizations and service providers to get past this pandemic,’’ said JCA president Adaoma Patterson. “This is what our shared community initiative and commitment represents – the very best that can be mustered, which is what the community deserves.”
Both vaccine clinics, on July 3 and 4, will be from 10 am to 6 pm. For more information, call 416-746-5772 or 416-740-1056.