Toronto

Staff, volunteers at Toronto vaccine clinics cite verbal abuse, bullying by those trying to secure 2nd dose

Staff and volunteers at some pop-up vaccination clinics in the city are calling out the aggressive behaviour and verbal assaults they have faced from residents seeking a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, despite not yet being eligible. 

Behaviour is 'unacceptable,' but it's time to get going on 2nd doses, physician says

Danny Anckle, executive director of Cecil Community Centre, says staff and volunteers were bullied and intimidated at a pop-up clinic held at the centre on Wednesday. People aggressively demanded second doses of a COVID-19 vaccine despite not being eligible. (Pierre-Olivier Bernatchez/CBC)

Staff and volunteers at some Toronto vaccination clinics are calling out the aggressive behaviour and verbal assaults they have faced from residents seeking a second dose of COVID-19 vaccines, despite not yet being eligible. 

A pop-up clinic in the city's Kensington-Chinatown neighbourhood that was designed to get first doses into the arms of community members on Wednesday was inundated with people who travelled in from regions as far away as Thornhill, north of the city, said the head of the neighbourhood community centre that hosted the clinic.

And some of them were demanding a second dose, he said.

"It was totally bullying and intimidation," said Danny Anckle, executive director of Cecil Community Centre in Chinatown.

The clinic was held outside the centre Tuesday and Wednesday as part of a vaccination strategy that targeted residents in the neighbourhood, many of whom are racialized essential workers who also face language barriers, Anckle said.

He told CBC News a crowd of more than 200 people from more affluent areas of the city were lined up across the street in a way he said was intimidating to those in line for first doses.

"You know, it took a long time for us to convince [area residents] to come out and get a vaccine," he said. "And when they get here, they were made to feel like they didn't deserve it and that the people across the street who are glaring at them were more deserving." 

Anckle said the crowd refused to leave, even after being repeatedly told the clinic was not administering second doses.

'Unacceptable' but time for 2nd doses, physician says

Dr. Lisa Salamon, physician lead of mobile vaccine clinics in Scarborough, said she was horrified by what happened in Chinatown, but she's not surprised.

"I do know that they do really try to bully, harass, intimidate the staff because it's happened to myself and my staff as well.... Really, it's unacceptable," Salamon said.

On Saturday, Vaccine Hunters Canada, a volunteer-run organization that helps the country in its vaccination efforts, tweeted that they've received similar reports of abuse toward clinic staff, with people "trying to bully their way" into receiving a second dose despite not being eligible for one.

In a statement Thursday to CBC Toronto, Toronto Public Health (TPH) said it "does not tolerate harassment of community partners or volunteers at any vaccination clinic."

TPH said second doses "are only available to high-risk health-care workers, dialysis patients, and all First Nations, Inuit and Métis individuals" per the province's direction. 

Second-dose appointments are being actively discussed with the province, TPH said.

But Salamon said now is the time to start administering second doses to people who were vaccinated in February and March.

Province intends to shorten interval of 2nd dose

On Thursday, York Region confirmed the Ministry of Health has said it intends to shorten intervals of second doses province-wide. 

"They have given us the heads-up they will hopefully be moving in that direction as of next week with the over-80 age group and then subsequently moving down to the over-70 age group," Dr. Karim Kurji, York Region's medical officer of health, said at York Regional Council Thursday morning. 

Later at a news conference, the province said it has been planning its second-dose rollout and there will be an update on the vaccination plan on Friday. 

Salamon said people want simple and clear direction from the province on their second-dose eligibility. 

Dr. Lisa Salamon says it's time to go forward with second doses and implores the government to design a clear, unnuanced eligibility plan for residents. 'We have been doing such specific nuanced eligibility — really it's what leads to the the harassment,' she says. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

"We have been doing such specific nuanced eligibility — really, it's what leads to the the harassment," Salamon said. "We need to make it simple and straightforward.... We need to make it, 'If you got your vaccine before this date, you're eligible.'"

She said while the government should continue with small local community outreach, some mass vaccination clinics have the ability to start administering second doses given the current supply of vaccines and health-care personnel. 

"It's time to move on. We have the capacity, we have the vaccine," she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sabrina Jonas is a Montreal-based journalist with a particular interest in social justice issues and human interest stories. Sabrina previously worked at CBC Toronto after graduating from Ryerson's School of Journalism. Drop her an email at sabrina.jonas@cbc.ca

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