A day after a Scarborough pop-up clinic was inundated with thousands of people seeking second COVID-19 vaccines amid an increase in concern about the Delta variant, Toronto Public Health officials are defending the allocations of doses to the provincial booking portal and the temporary clinics.
It was on Tuesday when the pop-up clinic at Warden Hilltop Community Centre hosted by Michael Garron Hospital and East Toronto Health Partners, which was set to open at 8 a.m. to those 12 and older who live in postal code areas starting with M (which is most of Toronto), had approximately 2,000 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses. Appointments were not required.
Global News reporters in a helicopter and on the ground saw thousands of people waiting in lines that spanned over several blocks, doubled up in spots and many were left to stand on residential streets.
This isn’t the first time this type of large crowd was seen with people waiting overnight. At David and Mary Thomson Collegiate in Scarborough near Midland Avenue and Lawrence Avenue East in late April, dose-seekers began showing up around midnight.
The crush of residents observed at pop-up clinics comes amid difficulties booking vaccine appointments on the Ontario government portal.
Vincent Tran, who was in line to get his second dose at the Downsview Arena clinic, said trying to book a slot online has been difficult.
“I checked a couple of places and it’s kind of weird the Ontario system. It showed us locations 40 km away. It didn’t let us book anything around here,” he told Global News.
Rose Pedache, who was also in line, said she too tried to make an appointment online without luck.
“I was online maybe for three hours and no appointment, no appointment, no appointment — anywhere, any area, any district — there were no appointments available and then it kicked me out,” she said.
Global News also heard from residents in Toronto and Markham who were offered a chance to get a vaccine in Tottenham, a roughly 50-kilometre drive from Highway 400 and Steeles Avenue West (the Toronto-York Region border) and a trip that isn’t easily accessible to people in the GTA if they don’t drive.
In response to the situation, a spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said on Tuesday it falls to Toronto Public Health to determine how its allocation of vaccines will be distributed, including through the provincial booking portal and pop-up clinics.
When Global News asked about what residents experienced at the pop-up clinic in Scarborough and the possibility of increasing the allocation of vaccines to the portal so people can book appointments versus waiting hours in line, Toronto’s medical officer of health said staff are working with vaccination partners to hit many different channels and focus on areas of risk.
“We have noted that actually made a significant difference. It has really increased vaccination rates in those hardest-hit areas of the city and has improved coverage, and in accordance with that we have actually seen reductions in our COVID-19 transmission,” Dr. Eileen de Villa said during a news conference on Wednesday.
Global News pressed further about those who lined up starting at 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday even though clinic or security staff were not present. De Villa said it’s not the “intention” to have overnight lines and said there are strategies to avoid that kind of situation from happening.
“I’m certainly interested to hear that this is happening. We’ll bring it back to our table of vaccination partners and as we have throughout the course of the vaccination campaign, we’ll continue to refine our vaccination efforts so that we’re achieving the goals of the vaccination campaign,” she said.
On Wednesday, de Villa reported just 84 new cases of COVID-19 in Toronto while 605 people continue to remain in area hospitals. She noted close to 75 per cent of Toronto residents have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 20 per cent are fully vaccinated.
De Villa encouraged people to continue their efforts adhering to public health advice and to get vaccinated.
“The main thing to remember is we’re in a strong position at this point in time so long as we work to keep it that way,” she said.
“Often during the pandemic, I told you the future was in your hands and under your control. It’s never been easier to take that control, and I am asking each of you to take it and begin or complete your vaccinations so that we can drive our vaccination coverage and our safety and protection to new heights.”
— With files from Shallima Maharaj
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