Thu. Jun 30th, 2022

With the first full week of personal learning since the Christmas holidays now underway, COVID-19 vaccination rates for children ages five to 11 remain stubbornly low in areas home to Toronto’s most vulnerable and racist communities.

Neighborhoods in the northwest corner of the city, such as Rexdale, Black Creek and Mount Olive, as well as others to the east such as Thorncliffe Park – many of the places hardest hit by the pandemic – make up the majority of the 20 areas with the lowest vaccination rates in the city for this age group according to new data from Toronto Public Health.

In these areas, even with dozens of equity-driven campaigns by public health officials and community organizations in the nine weeks since five-to-11-year-olds were eligible for the shots, less than four in 10 children in this age group have received a single vaccine.

Experts are concerned that primary schools in these neighborhoods with lower vaccination rates in children could see outbreaks occur earlier than in other areas. And while the risk of hospitalization from Omicron is relatively low for children, they warn that unvaccinated children are more prone to serious illness and hospitalization.

“There’s going to be a lot of COVID in a lot of different schools because Omicron is so contagious,” said Dr. Anna Banerji, a specialist in infectious diseases at the University of Toronto’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine. “The question is, who will it affect the most? I think it will affect communities that have lower vaccination rates, which also tend to be communities that have more racist people, lower incomes, lower socioeconomic status.”

Vaccination of the entire neighborhood will not necessarily mean less COVID, but it will mean less serious outcomes for people who become infected, noted Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist at the University of Toronto.

“It’s important because some of the five-to-eleven kids have siblings under five, and the siblings under five are hugely vulnerable. So you really have to protect your older kids to protect your younger kids,” he said. “Science is ready. The message does not get through. “

There has been no shortage of efforts on the part of the city and local organizations to ensure that the message is heard. To date, Team Toronto, a joint municipal, public health, community and health campaign to vaccinate Torontonians, has held more than 520 school-based clinics in an effort to reach children and adolescents between the ages of five and 17. weekend, almost 1,700 doses were administered at a “Vax the Northwest” event at York University, which was complete with a DJ, TTC shuttle to the clinic and support dogs. So far, about 51 percent of Toronto children between the ages of five and 11 (equivalent to about 134,000 doses) have received at least one dose.

Yet many of the neighborhoods that have borne the brunt of the pandemic continue to experience lower-than-average vaccination rates in this age group. In Elms-Old Rexdale, only 24 percent of children between the ages of five and 11 have received a single dose, the lowest rate for this age cohort in the city. This is followed by Beechborough-Greensbrook, near Keele Street and Eglinton Avenue West, with about 24 percent, and Mount Olive — Silverstone — Jamestown and Kingsview Village — The Westway, each with 26 percent.

“When we get into the data, it’s so conspicuous and so painfully obvious that the inequalities in vaccine intake exist despite a justice – centered and driven approach since day one, not because of the absence of one,” Coun said. Joe Cressy, chairman of the city’s health council.

To get a sense of the vaccination rates in schools that Toronto Public Health does not provide, Star mapped the location of elementary schools in the city along with the vaccination rates for five-to-11-year-olds by neighborhood. Toronto Public Health says it is working to collect vaccination rates after school, but at least two other health units, those in Guelph and Hamilton, are already making this data available on their websites.

Hamilton’s healthcare worker Dr. Elizabeth Richardson said in an interview that this information is very useful when deciding where clinics should be located, “to really understand the overall state of our society when it comes to vaccination status.”

The fully vaccinated rate for five-to-11-year-olds is below one percent for many Toronto neighborhoods, including Thorncliffe Park and Jane and Finch, which can be partly explained by the fact that this age group has only been eligible for the vaccine since end of November, according to data from ICES, formerly known as the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences. But the rate is over 20 percent in a handful of more affluent communities.

When it comes to single doses in the age group of five to 11 years, the difference between poor and affluent neighborhoods is large. For example, Toronto Public Health data show that in Leaside-Bennington and Bridle Path — Sunnybrook — York Mills, 86 percent of children in this age group received one dose — as much as 62 percentage points higher than the neighborhoods with the lowest enrollment.

At a recent clinic targeting children held at the EarlyON Center in the Jane Finch Mall, only 15 children ages five to 11 received their shots, according to Michelle Dagnino, CEO of the Jane / Finch Community and Family Center.

“The numbers are still pretty low,” she said. “But I think the barriers are still pretty significant.”

Some families are struggling with the online provincial portal to order vaccine appointments, she said. Others have difficulty navigating clinics if there are no staff on site who speak their language.

There needs to be better messages about why children should get the vaccine, available in multiple languages ​​that do not “feel like an advertisement,” Dagnino said.

“It really is a parenting campaign because it’s not going to be a five-year-old making the decision to get vaccinated.”

In Thorncliffe Park, another neighborhood hard hit by COVID and where vaccination rates have lagged, Ahmed Hussein reports that he is experiencing “some hesitation” among parents about having children in this age group. Only 33 percent of children five to 11 years old have received a first shot.

“Misinformation is really widespread,” said Hussein, head of the Neighborhood Organization, an agency that provides services to residents of Thorncliffe Park and nearby communities.

This misinformation is translated into various languages ​​and spread on social media, which he calls “the Wild West”.

Hussein says many students returning to personal learning have been vaccinated, but parents who do not want their children to receive a shot see online school as a way out as the children will be home.

While his organization, along with partners like Michael Garron Hospital, is working hard to ensure that accessibility to vaccines is not an issue, he says one thing that would help would be to bring vaccine buses back to the parking lots of apartment buildings, a program that so community workers go “door to door” to let people know the shots had arrived.

“It made a difference.”

Akwatu Khenti, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health and chairman of the Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity, compares the journey of vaccinating them in marginalized communities to the journey to a marathon instead of a sprint.

“What we are seeing is that many people who have been vaccinated are reluctant to vaccinate their children because they do not feel that they are there yet. “They want more time, they want more information, they want to see how it all goes,” Khenti said. “We just have to go one at a time and talk to people. That’s what I do. Even when they are in line to be vaccinated, people are in doubt most of the time. ”

Khenti said he believes experience with systemic racism in healthcare drives much of the distrust that many individuals in marginalized societies have.

“They get the feeling that no one cares about their health and no one cares about their perception of experiences. When they say they feel discriminated against, no one is listening. That kind of thing, ”he said.

“I think it’s what’s going on in family care or health care, emergency rooms, what do you have that these people think there is a certain lack of empathy for the pain they’ve experienced.”

Khenti also points to the issue of non-paid sick days.

“Many of these racialized workers believe that there is only one reason they do not get the 10 sick days they say they deserve, and that is because they are racialized and their lives have less value.”

Shiran Isaacksz, co-leader of the Community Vaccination Table with Toronto Public Health, reiterated Khenti’s comments, saying that vaccination is “done at the speed of trust.”

“Everyone has a different speed in relation to trust. When you look at the center of the city, trust is instantaneous, ”he said. “In other areas, we can actually start mapping the speed at which vaccination is taking place. For me, that speed is correlated with trust, not access and not supply. “

And how do the city and health care build that trust?

“I’m not leaving them,” Isaacksz explained. “It’s not like we’re coming in, we’re doing this big thing with a lot of media and a lot of publicity and then going away. We have to stay. I think it’s a big piece. We have to stay in the long run. “

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