Vaccination coverage map shows stark differences between Ottawa communities
Resources being redirected into community hubs as mass vaccination clinics close
While 84 per cent of eligible residents in Ottawa have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a newly released map reveals stark differences in vaccination rates across neighbourhoods, which health officials say comes down to inequitable access, a lack of trust and mixed messages.
The map was created through a partnership between Ottawa Public Health and the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study, showing first and second dose rates for eligible populations in more than 100 neighbourhoods across the city as a snapshot in time from Aug. 2. The map is set to be updated every four weeks.
It highlights a huge disparity between the most vaccinated neighbourhoods and the least in both first and second doses as the city tries to reach a 90 per cent vaccination rate because of concerns over the delta variant.
"This disparity between less and more advantaged neighbourhoods is persisting throughout the pandemic despite significant efforts by many partners to reorient services to meet the greatest needs," said Ottawa's medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches.
See vaccination rates for neighbourhoods across Ottawa as of Aug. 2, 2021.
She said there's also a correlation between less advantaged neighbourhoods and neighbourhoods with larger percentages of Black people or people of colour.
But she cautioned the reason why there is low vaccine uptake is not necessarily because people are vaccine hesitant. Instead, she pointed to a number of systemic barriers that are preventing people from accessing vaccine information and opportunities to get vaccinated.
"Residents of these neighbourhoods are more likely to work in jobs where taking paid sick leave to be vaccinated is difficult or impossible."
Some of those reasons include language barriers, a lack of transportation, computer or internet access, a need for childcare or a lack of trust in government agencies and the health care system because of people's previous experiences or systemic racism.
While she said the disparity is more stark in youth in less advantaged neighbourhoods, age is not a major factor for why people may or may not be vaccinated.
"It exists across every age group," she said.
Herongate-Ledbury-Ridgemont was one of the hardest hit neighbourhoods throughout the pandemic, with nearly three times the citywide infection rate as of the end of 2020.
It was also one of the first neighbourhoods targeted with a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic when the city was grappling with a low vaccine supply earlier this year.
Despite some of those efforts, vaccine uptake in the neighbourhood has been slow and currently sits at 62.5 per cent of eligible people with one dose and 46.4 per cent of people fully vaccinated.
Compare that to the highest vaccinated community — Vars — where 99.7 per cent of people 12 years of age and older have at least one dose and 85.2 per cent have two doses.
'Lives are at stake'
As mass vaccination clinics have been closed across the city, those resources are being redirected into different strategies, including community hubs and mobile clinics that could be set up in parks, at events, or even the food bank.
"Really going where people are at," said Karim Mekki, Ottawa Public Health's supervisor of community engagement.
He said immunizers could even go door-to-door in certain communities if people aren't able to leave their homes.
They're also trying to focus on youth by piggybacking on agencies serving youth, and via social media.
"What we're seeing a lot is that youth feel immune to COVID and also, you know, probably weren't really reflected in a lot of the overall public health promotion," he said.
Hindia Mohamoud, director of Ottawa Local Immigration Partnership, has also asked for a formal evaluation of the various strategies implemented by health teams to target marginalized communities so far to determine which are working and which aren't.
"The core objective is to get to as high a percentage of vaccination as possible," she said. "We've come a long way and done a lot of tremendous work. But we are unsatisfied with where we are at now. And the risk is high and lives are at stake."
- A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the percentage of eligible Ottawa residents who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.Aug 13, 2021 6:53 AM ET
- A previous version of this story misspelled Karim Mekki's name.Aug 12, 2021 9:59 AM ET