Toronto's COVID-19 vaccine rollout slower in low-income, hardest hit areas, data suggests

A new analysis of postal code and vaccination data in Toronto suggests that the city’s hardest-hit neighbourhoods have not been getting COVID-19 vaccines at the same rate as those who live in higher-income areas that have seen much lower rates of the virus.

Postal code information suggests disparity in access to shots in Toronto neighbourhoods

Nurse Tahani McDonald from Humber River Hospital administers the Moderna vaccine at a Toronto Community Housing seniors building in the northwest end of Toronto in March. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

A new analysis of postal code and vaccination data in Toronto suggests that the city's hardest-hit neighbourhoods have not been getting COVID-19 vaccines at the same rate as higher-income areas that have seen much lower rates of the virus.

The analysis from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) provides more concrete evidence for something many experts have been saying for months: that the pandemic is disproportionately affecting Toronto-area neighbourhoods with the most essential workers and lowest income levels. 

The data also helps explain why pressure on the province to increase public health measures and ensure better protections for essential workers has been growing in recent weeks. 

For example, in the wealthier St. Clair and Rosedale area, about 22.4 per cent of residents have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, the most in any part of the city. Similarly, Forest Hill and Forest Hill South are at 22.1 and 22 per cent, respectively.

Compare that to the Jane and Finch area, where only 5.5 per cent of residents have gotten their first shot, despite the area having a rate of hospitalizations and deaths from the illness more than eight times higher than St. Clair and Rosedale.

WATCH | Neighbourhoods hardest hit by COVID-19 have less access to vaccines:

Toronto neighbourhoods hardest hit by COVID-19 have lowest vaccination rates

2 years ago
Duration 3:09
New data reveals Toronto's neighbourhoods hardest hit by COVID-19 are also the ones with the lowest vaccination rates. At the same time, the numbers show the least at-risk areas have the highest rates. Angelina King looks at why this is happening.

The data paints a stark picture of who is getting their first dose of vaccine and who isn't, which is something the province needs to get right to curb the spread of infections. 

Similar concerns exist around pharmacies that administer vaccines being located primarily in Toronto's most affluent neighbourhoods.

These maps show COVID-19 case rates in the city compared to vaccination rates:

Access to technology, clinics impacting rates

In an interview on CBC Radio's Metro Morning Wednesday, Toronto's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said a variety of factors are contributing to the issue.

People living in "better off" parts of the city tend to have higher access to technology and are better able to take advantage of immunization opportunities like city-run vaccination clinics, de Villa said.

"We know that [people in lower income areas] experience more barriers, so we systematically have to go and reduce those barriers to access," de Villa said. Those barriers, she said, range from location, to language, to concerns about the safety of vaccines.

"So that actually takes more time. So I'm not surprised to see that we're seeing less uptake in communities in need. However, I can assure people there are efforts underway … to reduce those barriers."

De Villa cited mobile and pop-up clinics in some of the city's hardest hit neighbourhoods as an example of those efforts.

Mobile teams will offer vaccines in hard-hit areas: Ford

The provincial government also announced Wednesday that it will start offering COVID-19 vaccinations for more people over the age of 18 in regions hardest hit by the virus, starting with Toronto and Peel.

Premier Doug Ford said his government is organizing mobile teams to offer vaccines to those 18 and over in high-risk congregate settings, residential buildings, faith-based locations and locations occupied by large employers in hot spot neighbourhoods.

Ford also said education workers in high-risk neighbourhoods will be allowed to book vaccinations.

"We need to get the vaccines where they will have the greatest impact, as quickly as possible," Ford said. "I continue to ask everyone to get a vaccine as soon as you're eligible to do so."

Ford also said if vaccine supply stays consistent, he hopes to have 40 per cent of adults in Ontario vaccinated by the end of the new, four-week stay-at-home order.

With files from Adam Carter and Metro Morning