In Montreal's LaSalle borough, community groups aim to spread the word on vaccines

Across Montreal, the number of residents who have received a dose of vaccine is climbing steadily and the spread of the coronavirus is on the decline, but disparities remain in pockets of the city.

Borough has one of the highest case counts and lowest vaccination rates

David Diaco is co-ordinating Lasalle's Multicultural Resource Centre's COVID-19 prevention program in an area that is falling behind on vaccination rates. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

Several community organizations in Montreal's LaSalle borough are working together to encourage residents to get vaccinated.

The borough has the fifth highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Montreal since the beginning of the pandemic, and a lower than average rate of vaccination.

Dayna Cozier Flanagan, a volunteer at Lasalle's Multicultural Resource Centre (LMRC), says people of colour in the borough have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic "due to the jobs they occupy, where they live, also due to their low income, their inability to take time off work or not having the luxury to work from home,"

Nearly 40 per cent of residents are from a minority group.

Members of the community group are going door to door to hand out masks and provide information on testing and vaccination.

In some cases, residents are hesitant to get the vaccine because of a longstanding distrust in government or past experiences of discrimination, said David Diaco, who is co-ordinating the group's COVID-19 prevention program.

People line up for their vaccines at a walk-in mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Parc-Extension on May 5, part of an effort in Montreal to reach out to its more diverse communities. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Diaco hopes meeting people face to face can help ease some of their concerns.

He would also like to see, as has been done elsewhere in the city, pop-up vaccination clinics brought to the area.

"Many individuals can't travel very long distances due to transportation restrictions," he said.

Level of vaccination fear is 'worrisome' 

Rev. Tapiwa Huggins Gusha, who presides over the borough's St. Lawrence Anglican Church, said he's pleased with the community group's efforts to reach people and to provide the latest information on COVID to them.

"The level of hesitance or fear when it comes to COVID vaccination is just a worrisome thing," Gusha said.

"The government and local authorities have not done well in the area of advocacy and information dissemination."

WATCH | Montreal goes door to door in effort to build awareness:

Community campaigns in Montreal bring vaccine information to people’s doors

The National

2 months ago
To get more Montreal residents to roll up their sleeves for a COVID-19 vaccine, community groups are going door to door to make information as accessible as possible. 1:58

Montreal public health's director of public health, Dr. Mylène Drouin, has said she wants to have a vaccination rate of 80 per cent across the city, given the high transmissibility of COVID-19 variants.

However, places like LaSalle are not alone, as disparities remain in pockets of the city despite the fact that number of residents who have received a dose of vaccine is climbing steadily and the spread of the coronavirus is on the decline.

CIUSSS working on outreach

Dr. Malek Sbih is a senior advisor on the vaccination campaign for the local health agency, CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal. He said LaSalle isn't the only place that health officials are focused on. The agency is also working to boost awareness in places like Lachine and Pierrefonds as well.

"All those areas need a real focus from us and we're doing it, actually," he said. "We did a lot. There's a lot to be done."

Sbih said his team is working long hours, including the weekends. Mobile clinics have been set up in different, low-income neighbourhoods.

Sbih is no stranger to heading vaccination campaigns, having served as a national co-ordinator for the World Health Organizations. He said whenever vaccination rates are lagging, authorities will often blame logistics and distribution delays.

But based on his experience in other countries, he said the real barrier is communication.

Health officials need to provide information in simple terms, so the population isn't overwhelmed by all the questions about COVID-19 variants, vaccine types and the efficacy of inoculation.

"They're panicking and that's normal," said Sbih.

"They need to have the information and then after that, they're completely free to make a decision. But we want to give them the information and that's what we are doing week after week."

Based on reporting from Sarah Leavitt and Josh Grant

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