Community vaccine clinics 'life-changing' for some who can't access Manitoba's supersites

Community vaccine clinics have started to open up this week in Manitoba. 

Targeted pop-up clinics aim to reduce barriers for those who want a vaccine

The pop-up clinic at the St. Amant Centre in Winnipeg. Staff say some clients prefer the smaller site instead of trying to navigate a large supersite. (Submitted by St. Amant Centre)

Community vaccine clinics have started to open up this week in Manitoba. 

The province is partnering with community organizations in an effort to boost vaccine uptake and give people another option if they can't make it to a supersite or feel it's not the best option. 

"We're just overwhelmed with how well it went, said Sarah Mankelow, director of health and transition services at St.Amant. The centre, which helps people with developmental disabilities, hosted a clinic this week. 

Mankelow said the centre wanted to give clients a place to go for a vaccine who felt overwhelmed by supersites. They were given 500 doses to use this week, through appointments and walk-ins. 

She said one caregiver brought in a person with significant neurodevelopmental and physical challenges. 

"They were expecting it to be a very challenging situation and indicated they had tried three separate times to get the person they support, a vaccine with no success," she said. "They were just so grateful. And we even got a few smiles." 

She said therapy dogs are on even on hand to help calm people — especially those who haven't left their house very much in the last year, like another couple that got vaccinated at the clinic. 

"This was one of the first times they've left their house in almost a year and that they were just overwhelmed by the friendliness of the staff, the accessibility of the clinic, and just it really put them at ease," she said.

"They described it as life-changing for them." 

Mankelow said the clinic has been so successful, St. Amant has applied for more doses from the province.

Offering barrier-free and easier access to vaccines is something the Women of Colour Community Leadership Initiative also hopes to accomplish through its pop-up vaccine clinic this week.

St. Amant Centre hosted a pop-up vaccine clinic this week. (Submitted by St. Amant Centre )

"We know for south end residents, going to downtown is not quite convenient with their busy schedule," said president Jennifer Chen. "So we want to reduce barriers and to set up pop-up clinics for people accessing vaccines in their own communities, in their own neighbourhood. 

"We want to help break any barriers, perceived or otherwise," Chen said.

Transportation, language barriers 

Chen said people in her south end neighbourhood face transportation barriers, but there are also cultural and language barriers some have to overcome. She said her group wants to offer vaccines in a familiar place, like a community centre. 

"It's a place that people are familiar," she said. "People go to these centres before for events and for other occasions. 

"So getting back to being in a place that they are familiar, people are familiar with will also help reduce barriers and help increase confidence in COVID vaccines and uptake," said Chen.

Dr. Joss Reimer, who leads Manitoba's vaccine rollout, cautioned that walk-in clinics should only be used by those who can't otherwise access supersites or wait for an appointment. 

 "We want to use whatever we have available to try and reach people who have no protection right now," Reimer said. 

Her comments come after long lineups were reported at walk-in sites in recent days. 

For NorWest Co-op Community Health, getting to and from a supersite has posed an issue for clients. They are also setting up a vaccine clinic this week. 

"It's great to be able to remove the barriers for people who are unable to go to the RBC Convention Centre," said Jennifer Gourlay Hennig, a primary care nurse at the co-op.

"The supersite idea is fabulous, but it doesn't work for everybody. And so we want to be able to offer this extra area for immunization for our community members." 

Community groups in Manitoba are beginning to host pop-up and walk-in clinics this week. (Submitted by St. Amant Centre)

She said the co-op is planning to offer child care for parents who need to get their vaccines too. 

"If they're on a limited income, they may not be able to afford the transportation cost downtown," she said. 

All of the organizations setting up clinics this week said they are expecting a large turnout. 

With files from Holly Caurk and Peggy Lam