These are medical staff racing the clock to bring COVID-19 vaccines to Hamilton's homebound

From the moment the COVID-19 vaccine is drawn from the vial, a clock starts ticking, and Steve Flokstra is racing against time. The paramedic spent Saturday delivering doses of Moderna's vaccine to people who are homebound and otherwise might miss their chance at a shot.

Paramedics, doctors are working from a list of roughly 3,000 names

Steve Flokstra is one of the Hamilton paramedics who has been delivering COVID-19 vaccinations to homebound residents. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

From the moment the COVID-19 vaccine is drawn from the vial, a clock starts ticking, and Steve Flokstra is racing against time.

The primary-care paramedic spent Saturday driving across the city delivering doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine to people who are homebound and otherwise might miss their chance at a shot.

"It's very busy," he said during a brief stop around 2 p.m. ET, when he arrived at the Hamilton Paramedic Service Training Facility to reload a cooler with vaccines before eating a quick lunch and heading back on the road.

"We have six hours to deliver it into the arms of the patients."

If that timeline isn't followed, the shots expire and go to waste.

Flokstra was part of two teams dispatched to vaccinate some of the city's most vulnerable, and least visible, residents during the pandemic.

The vaccines are going into the arms of people who have health or mobility issues that keep them bed bound and unable to access a shot at a pharmacy or one of the city's mass vaccination sites.

"There's a lot of worry about COVID from individuals, especially some of these people at home, who have lots of different medical problems and lots of different caregivers involved, so they're very happy to receive the vaccine," explained Joe Pedulla, acting commander of Mobile Integrated Health programs for Hamilton Paramedic Service.

WATCH | Here's what it takes to deliver in-home vaccines:

Here's how paramedics are delivering vaccines to homebound residents

CBC News Hamilton

2 months ago
Acting EMS commander Joe Pedulla and primary care paramedic Steve Flokstra are part of an effort to get COVID-19 shots to Hamilton residents who aren't able to leave home. 1:12

Public health officials tagged paramedics to lead the in-home vaccination program because of their experience planning routes and sorting out the logistical headaches that come with something like trying to vaccinate dozens of people on a deadline, he said.

"We're used to travelling in any kind of weather, at any time of day. That's sort of second nature to us."

'It's like an Amazing Race'

The paramedics have been joined in the effort by family doctors who know how to find hard-to-reach patients.

Dr. Barb Pek was out administering doses last weekend. With a Playmate cooler marked fragile and strapped into a back seat by seat-belt, she and resident physician Dr. Christina Romanin set timers between stops.

"This is the way," their T-shirts declared in big bold, black letters next to the silhouette of a syringe.

Among those she visited were people who are blind, cancer patients and even a couple celebrating their 60th anniversary.

Dr. Barb Pek and resident physician Dr. Christina Romanin helped distribute doses of the Moderna vaccine last weekend. (Supplied by Barb Pek)

"It's like an Amazing Race," Pek said. After giving the shot and standing by for some followup care, you "hop in your car and move to the next checkpoint."

Saturday marked the third day teams administered in-home shots, according to Pedulla, who said they are working from a list of roughly 3,000 names, and have reached about 150 people so far.

Each paired team can dole out about 20 doses during each shift, he said, adding the program, which has two teams, will grow to five by Tuesday. That means the number of shots per day should jump from 40 to about 100.

Patients represent a 'cross-section' of the city

Flokstra said every shot he's given out has been greeted with a kind word.

"First of all, it's a thank you for being here," he said.

"The instant they get the dose in their arm they're … very grateful and they're just excited to finally have their vaccine."

Vaccines are stored in a cooler marked 'FRAGILE' and are only good for six hours after the vial is punctured. (Supplied by Barb Pek)

For Pek, bringing shots out into the community opened her eyes to see Hamilton in a new light.

She recalled starting downtown, then moving up Barton Street E., across the Mountain and into Ancaster and Dundas — stops she described as a "cross-section of Hamilton" that shows how patients from all across the city are all "tied together."