Vaccine & a vibe
Mother’s Day 2021 was one to remember for the folks who spent the day at the Jamaican Canadian Association.
The JCA held a Black led and black serving Covid-19 vaccination clinic at their space in Toronto.
“It was a huge team effort,” said Adaoma Patterson, President of the Jamaican-Canadian Association.
“University Health Network, came together with us to support..the Black Physicians Association of Ontario, Black Clergy, CAFCAN, City of Toronto, all of us built this thing together… That’s the energy people felt—we did it together,” she said.
The aim of the initiative was to promote vaccine uptake in Black communities and prioritize black folks in the processes of recovery and repair ahead. The weekend finished with over 2000 individuals receiving their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
“It was very important for this to be a black led and black serving initiative because it highlights the agency we have as a people to direct our own healthcare and address inequities in the system,” said Dr. David Esho, family physician at Toronto Western, and the Toronto Physician Lead for the Black Physician association of Ontario – BPAO Black Health Vaccine Initiative.
“Our community partners were outstanding. They were excellent ambassadors and really worked hard to ensure that people were engaged. Secondly, we had a very strong turn out by black healthcare professionals, several patients mentioned that they had never seen so many black healthcare professionals in one space before. Thirdly, there was an amazing vibe! It really felt like a celebration—and I think in a lot of ways it was.”
Dr. Esho and his colleagues in his practice and in the community hope that the model they created can be replicated across the country.
Longterm, he hopes that the relationships built that day will lead to continued collaboration in the process to improving health outcomes in black communities.
Multiple reports have revealed the disproportionate negative impacts of the Covid-19 virus on Black communities from many different angles, among them being poor outcomes in both physical and mental health as a result of the pandemic.
“People haven’t interacted with people in a long time so there’s just an energy,” said Floydeen Charles-Fridal, Executive Director of Caribbean African Canadian Social Services (CAFCAN).
“The hesitation is still very much present in our community… and it’s not without reason. That’s why we have to create an appropriate space for the people who are interested,” she said.
Appropriate in this context included one long line, classic tunes, friendly staff, and Caribbean classics like patties and soup to tie it all together. It was a serious community event and the coordinating team treated it as such.
“What people don’t understand about community engagement is you’ve got to meet people where they are… so there’s certain things you have to do. If we talk about African and Caribbean people, we are community people, so you’ve got to do as much as you can to bring that natural way of gathering into a space. People are coming in nervous and doubtful… You don’t want to contribute to that anxiety,” said Charles-Fridal.
Vaccine hesitation in Black communities has a long history that is steeped in medical violence, experimentation, and exclusion from western healthcare systems. Progressive leadership, both within community systems and within the western healthcare system, honour and understand this history, and considered this context when creating the space.
The multi-disciplinary team of doctors, policy professionals, and community leadership, came together to make the case for the need to prioritize, and adequately resource the coordination and execution of this event. The team was successful in their advocacy, and the experience of the day’s event confirmed the victory.
The Mother’s Day clinic, being the second of the two-day-clinic, was far more ethnically diverse than the first.
“On day 1, there was a line up from 7am and everyone was black. Within four hours we cleared the line. That’s when we had to share on social media…because the vaccines could only last for a short period of time after they had been removed from refrigeration, so we had to move quickly,” said Patterson.
When the pop-up clinic made it to CP24, the word was out and people from all over the province were coming to get their vaccine. By the second day, people saw the opportunity for vaccination, and accessed it.
“There was a bit of a tension for sure. We wanted to prioritize our elders and others who were vulnerable… but there was no easy way to do that without taking certain information,” said Patterson.
With every executive decision there are pros and cons and Patterson shared how all options were carefully considered. Ultimately the team concluded it was far more important that the clinic be fully accessible and barrier-free, than it was for everyone in the line to be Black.
“I heard so much about how it was the best clinic experience folks had ever been part of… the way the place felt, and because all our coordinators, doctors and documenters were Black and BIPOC, it was a new way for non-black people to see Blackness represented,” she said.
The event demonstrated the inclusive nature of community led care-work and systems. It also created the opportunity to influence understanding of the diversity inherent in Black identity in the province.
It was a powerful showing of the many ways Black communities are able to bring together excellence from across disciplines, and transform the ordinary into an extraordinary experience to remember.