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Toronto launches pilot project to vaccinate homeless and shelter workers

Last Updated Jan 19, 2021 at 8:00 am EST

A makeshift home is seen in Toronto on Feb. 16, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

The City of Toronto has announced an initiative to help further protect people in the city’s shelter system from COVID-19.

The city has launched a COVID-19 vaccination pilot aimed at immunizing the homeless population and frontline shelter workers. The partnership with the Unity Health Toronto, University Health Network and Inner City Health will bring the pilot clinics to select shelters in the city.

The purpose of the project is to test out the clinic model and develop a “future” playbook that can be used for future vaccine rollout in the shelter system. The pilot clinics will prioritize shelters with the highest population of seniors and those who pose a significant risk to the virus.

“We are making progress now – as part of an all hands on deck effort – to get the vaccine to our most vulnerable residents,” said Mayor John Tory. “Reducing the spread of COVID-19 is our top priority and we are thankful for the tireless efforts of our staff and partners in fighting this pandemic everyday.”

Unity Health previously ran a clinic on Jan. 15 that provided the Pfizer vaccine to more than 50 seniors and 20 staff at the city-operated Scarborough Village Residence shelter.

The University Health Network also ran a clinic on Jan. 15 that administered the first does of the Moderna vaccine to 130 frontline workers at a COVID-19 recovery program for the homeless.

“We know that people experiencing homelessness are among our most vulnerable residents and many of them also have complex health issues that put them at added risk,” said Mary-Anne Bedard, General Manager of the Shelter, Support, and Housing Administration.

The city says it is continuing to “implement significant public health measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the shelter system while vaccine rollout is underway.”

The city opened its COVID-19 immunization clinic on Monday at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre despite recently announced delays in delivery of the Pfizer vaccine.

The clinic is for those designated by the province as next in line for the vaccine, including frontline healthcare workers in the shelter system and public health workers who will then work as COVID-19 immunizers.

Ontario is now temporarily delaying or pausing COVID-19 vaccination programs amid fallout from Pfizer’s decision to reduce Canada’s vaccine deliveries over the next month.

The convention centre clinic was initially scheduled to be open for at least six weeks, seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., but the City says the clinic will pause on Friday due to a COVID-19 vaccine shortage.

“Given the ongoing issues with the Pfizer vaccine supply, the City has been notified by the Province that the clinic will need to pause operations after Friday, January 22,” the City said in its release.

More than half a million Canadians have been vaccinated against COVID-19 thus far, and more than 822,000 doses of the two approved vaccines have been delivered from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

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