To boost COVID-19 vaccine confidence, officials reach out to Waterloo region's community leaders

The Region of Waterloo is using a mix of data and community feedback to guide where new COVID-19 vaccine initiatives. like a special bus or pop-up sites, will go. Fauzia Baig, the region's equity and diversity adviser, says they're also taking advice from community leaders.

Region reported 18 new cases on Thursday, 2 new hospitalizations

Fauzia Baig is the region's equity and human rights advisor. She says the region is working with local community leaders to bring COVID-19 vaccines into areas where they need to build vaccine confidence. (Peggy Lam/CBC)

The number of COVID-19 cases reported each day has declined in Waterloo region compared to two weeks ago, but so too have the number of people getting vaccinated.

A regional graph of doses given out shows 3,589 people were vaccinated last Sunday, the lowest number since May 29.

Looking at the numbers from Sunday to Wednesday this week, 20,607 doses were administered in the region. That was a significant drop from the previous week, when 30,777 doses were given. The week before included July 11, the second day of a two-day "every dose counts" event held by the region, which included the hockey hub vaccination clinic at Bingemans in Kitchener.

But as the number of people seeking the vaccine drops, the region plans to change up how it offers it, and that includes going into neighbourhoods, says Fauzia Baig, the region's equity and diversity adviser, who's been working to help high-risk communities access the vaccine.

"That's been our approach from the start when we've been doing this vaccine rollout, to really partner with community leaders and community organizations."

That includes a vaccination bus, which launched Wednesday and will roll into a neighbourhood to invite people to get the shot.

The Grand River Transit bus was previously used for COVID-19 screening and has now been repurposed for this use, Baig said. Up to six people can get vaccinated at one time on the bus.

"We want to make sure we're using a combination of data, and community feedback and information to guide where the bus goes," she said. "People can expect to see the bus in their neighbourhoods, maybe near housing complexes or maybe near a favourite market."

This graph shows the number of COVID-19 vaccines given each day in Waterloo region. It indicates that the number of doses administered as dropped this week compared to last week. (Region of Waterloo Public Health)

Building vaccine confidence

Rather than focusing on the idea of vaccine hesitancy, Baig said, their focus now is to build vaccine confidence within communities in the region, including providing culturally appropriate information and doing outreach to understand individual needs and answer questions.

She said sometimes, there's a unique reason some people aren't getting the vaccine. For example, she noted when vaccines were first rolled out, it happened during the month of Ramadan. Muslims were fasting at the time, so it added confusion and another barrier to receiving the vaccine.

"There's things like that that go on in people's lives that are based either on their religion and their practices or culture that make getting a vaccine more challenging," she said. "It's really just understanding some of those things that are happening."

She said the goal is to ensure people are making an informed choice when it comes to the vaccine while also providing low-barrier options for people to get a shot.

During the July 14 board of health meeting, Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said he had a good response to his video post for the local Croatian community. He's also recorded a video in 10 different languages to help encourage people to get vaccinated.

"I was actually surprised by sort of the response my Croatian [post] got even from probably two-thirds non-Croatians that couldn't even understand it unless they put it into Google translate," he said laughing, adding it would be great if the region could do more translated messaging, including on social media.

Baig agreed, and said the region would look into it.

'Won't take long' to get vaccine

Along with the vaccination bus, there will be a drive-thru clinic at Bingemans on Thursday evening. It's expected there will be more pop-up clinics in neighbourhoods at community centres and facilities.

As well, as of Thursday, you can drop into any regionally run vaccination clinic to get a first or second dose.

Shirley Hilton, deputy chief with the Waterloo Regional Police Service and head of the region's vaccination task force, said this will hopefully make it easier for people to make a spur-of-the-moment decision to get their shot.

"Because we've had an opportunity and really accelerated our second dose rollout plan, this has just given us now more opportunity and more capacity to be able to allow for those drop ins," she said in an interview.

"If you have been sitting on the fence or contemplating on whether you should or shouldn't my encouragement is, please while we have the clinics up and running, please take the time to go get a vaccine. It won't take long at all."

18 new cases

Region of Waterloo Public Health reported 18 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday. No new deaths were reported.

There were 21 people in the region's three hospitals, up from two the previous day, with 17 in the intensive-care unit.

There were 144 active cases.

The 12 active outbreaks are:

  • Workplaces: Six.
  • Child care/summer camp: Three.
  • Hospitals: Two.
  • Congregate setting: One.

On Thursday, local post-secondary schools announced students wanting to live on-campus in the fall would need to be fully vaccinated.

Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, the region's medical officer of health, said in a letter to the schools that she recommended students in residence be fully vaccinated because of a high number of cases in people ages 20 to 29.

Listen to the full interview with Fauzia Baig:

The Region of Waterloo has launched a vaccination bus that will go to high-priority neighbourhoods in the community. The bus hits the road on Wednesday. Fauzia Baig is the region's equity and human rights advisor. She discussed the vaccination bus and other outreach efforts she and her team have been working on to get the message out to people about why it's important to get the COVID-19 vaccine. 6:18


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