COVID-19 vaccination clinics head outdoors in effort to get shots in Ontario's littlest arms
Ottawa family physician Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth holds one of her littlest vaccinated patients during a recent Ottawa Junior Jabapalooza vaccination clinic for children six months to under age five. (Photo shared with permission from the child’s parents Kiavash Najafi and Jordan Leichnitz.)
Published Friday, August 5, 2022 3:06PM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, August 7, 2022 10:49AM EDT
The effort to get Ontario’s youngest residents vaccinated against COVID-19 is heading outdoors in some communities.
Next Friday, South East Toronto Family Health Team (SETFHT) is hosting a vaccination clinic at a popular local park in the city’s east end in the hopes of getting as many shots in little arms as possible.
The Aug. 12 clinic, which will be staffed by nurses, nurse practitioners, and primary care physicians, will be held at East Lynn Park on Danforth Avenue west of Woodbine Avenue, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Stephen Beckwith, SETFHT’s executive director, said they recently started holding COVID-19 clinics for children six months to under 5 years of age at their two east-end locations, but the “uptake wasn’t the greatest.”
Wanting to better connect with the community, Beckwith said they decided to pivot their approach and set up a vaccination clinic directly where children in the community go, a local park.
“We felt for younger families with kids, this made sense. …. We want to make sure it’s a good experience for the kids, but also the parents,” he said, noting a second outdoor vaccination clinic is being planned for the near future at a green space by SETFHT’s East York location at Coxwell and Mortimer avenues.
“It comes down to keeping the kids comfortable. The idea is to give kids the shot before school starts.”
Beckwith said they expect to vaccinate around 600 little ones at next Friday’s clinic.
“We only officially announced this clinic on Wednesday and already we’ve gotten tons of positive response. It’s been pretty crazy,” he said.
To make administering vaccines on the little ones & parents/caregivers a little easier. We are hosting an outdoor kids vaccine clinic at East Lynn Park (1949 Danforth Ave)— SouthEastTorontoFHT (@SETorontoFHT) August 3, 2022
Friday, August 12th 10 – 6 PM
Confirm your interest in this event here > https://t.co/mCjdP4Ng4a pic.twitter.com/3TsDTg1EyH
Family physician Dr. Nili Kaplan-Mirth has organized dozens of outdoor clinics over the last year in Ottawa, including most recently two "Junior Jabapolooza" events featuring live music in that city's Glebe neighbourhood.
More outdoor vaccine clinics for young children are already planned for next week and weekly in Ottawa until September, she told CP24.com.
"Our youngest children and infants are vulnerable to serious illness and hospitalization, if they end up with COVID-19. They are also vulnerable to long-COVID. That’s why it is important for them to get their doses of COVID vaccine," said Kaplan-Mirth, who urged all adults and older children to continue to wear masks.
"Rather than holding a clinic indoors, given that COVID-19 is airborne (and an infant or toddler or preschooler is unlikely to have a mask), we need to do everything we can to reduce the risk of spread. Outdoors creates a safer space to reach out to the youngest in our community - can’t find better ventilation than that! - and it also accommodates families with multiple children in tow."
To date, Kaplan-Mirth and her team of Ottawa Jabapalooza volunteers have administered more than 300 doses of the child-sized Moderna vaccine to little ones in the nation's capital.
Over in Hamilton, doctors Kerry Beal and Joe Oliver have also been working since January 2021 to get people from all walks of life in that city vaccinated by meeting them where they’re at.
They’ve immunized people staying at shelters and other congregate settings. They’ve stopped by encampments, food banks, and residential care facilities to administer the shot, and have even vaccinated crews on ships at the Hamilton port.
“Any time we have extra doses available, we find a way to get them in arms,” Oliver said.
Recently, Oliver and Beal and their trusted team have started holding rain-or-shine vaccination clinics for children six month to five years of age at two local green spaces.
To keep things light, organizers distract the kids with bubbles and give each person vaccinated a little certificate.
This latest effort kicked off last Thursday and due to high demand continued through the long weekend and beyond. People in need of a fourth dose are also welcome to stop by.
Oliver said it’s all about “trying to take every reasonable precaution to give children a safe and quiet experience” when they get their first COVID-19 vaccine.
People simply message Oliver on Twitter to request a shot. So far, they’ve administered upwards of 100 doses.
Oliver said it’s a good idea to get children vaccinated against COVID-19 before school starts as masking in schools is optional and there’s a “long way to go in terms of improving the ventilation” in these facilities.
And while the push continues for bettering HVAC systems in schools, he said the reality is that won’t likely happen before the new school year starts.
“Parents have spent over two years trying to protect their kids. … Another way for them to keep their kids as safe as possible is vaccination,” he said.
Immunizing children outdoors makes sense for many parents who may feel uncomfortable bringing their little ones inside to get vaccinated, said Beal, who pointed to the fact many young children feel scared and anxious in medical settings.
It can also be a struggle to get them to wear a mask inside, Beal added.
“Parks are friendly environments, places where everyone feels comfortable,” she said, adding they’d like Hamilton’s health unit to once again start offering outdoor vaccination clinics.