Toronto

'We're so excited': Volunteers help seniors 80+ secure 2nd dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

Starting on Monday, Ontarians aged 80 years and older are eligible to receive their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Volunteers spent all weekend scrambling to prepare to help seniors secure their shots.

Ontario moves up 2nd doses for people aged 80 years and older starting Monday

PinkCars, a volunteer-run organization that helps seniors book vaccine appointments and transport them to and from vaccination clinics, spent all weekend scrambling to prepare to help residents book their second dose starting Monday, founder Shanta Sundarason says. (CBC)

When 83-year-old Humayun Mohajer became eligible to receive a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine back in March, he didn't know where to begin in the booking process. 

"I didn't know how to get onto the computer. At my age, it was so difficult," he said. 

But thanks to PinkCars, a volunteer-run organization in York Region that helps seniors book vaccine appointments and transports them to and from vaccination clinics, the Richmond Hill resident got his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot in March and will be receiving his second dose on Monday.

Starting on Monday, Ontarians aged 80 years and older are eligible to receive their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as the province accelerates the timing between first and second shots due to a stable supply of vaccines and progress in delivering first doses, officials said at a Friday briefing.

Mohajer is one of thousands of seniors in York Region who have booked an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine through the PinkCars initiative, whose volunteers spent all weekend scrambling to help seniors book their second shots. 

"As stressful as it is, we're so excited," PinkCars founder Shanta Sundarason says. 

Volunteers with PinkCars have booked COVID-19 appointments for about 3,800 seniors and offered over 400 rides to seniors to and from vaccination centres since its inception on March 1, 2021. (CBC)

"Our phones have been ringing off the hook, so we've been busy collecting all the information of the several thousand seniors that we need to help over the course of the next month." 

Those aged 80 and older are the first group prioritized for an accelerated appointment for a second shot starting the week of May 31. Eligibility will then expand to those 70 and above in mid-June.

At that point, the province will shift to a "first-in, first-out" strategy, in which Ontarians will be able to book an appointment for their second dose depending on when they had their first.

Sundarason said volunteers with the initiative have booked COVID-19 appointments for about 3,800 seniors and offered more than 400 rides to and from vaccination clinics since the organization's inception on March 1, 2021.

Sundarason said seniors aged 75 plus primarily need help with rides and physical help going into vaccination clinics while younger seniors often face language barriers. Volunteers help match seniors with translators to improve comprehension and ease anxiety. 

She says there's no better feeling than telling seniors they're going to be fully protected earlier than expected. "When you call that senior and you say....'I've got you an earlier appointment,' the tears come flowing. It's just such a beautiful feeling," she said.

Wait your turn for 2nd dose, Toronto hospital says

A spokesperson for Humber River Hospital told CBC Toronto that it has also been racing this weekend to prepare to administer second shots, but like some other vaccination centres in the city, it has had to deal with aggression from people unwilling to wait their turn. 

"The way they talk to the security guards here, the way they talk to staff to try and get in for their second doses, there's some... aggressive people," Joe Gorman said. 

The hospital issued a message to residents in a Twitter thread that condemned the "verbal harassment and other abusive behaviour" encountered by hospital staff, saying people attempting to get a second dose of the vaccine but who are not yet eligible need to be patient.

"Screaming and yelling and getting agitated is not the way to go about this," Gorman said. 

He said the hospital staff understand people are frustrated, but "let's work with each other, let's work with the government and let's wait for the guidelines."

Starting on Monday, anyone aged 80 years and older and has already received a first dose with Humber River Hospital, including at the hospital, at Downsview Arena or at one of the hospital's pop-up clinics, can walk in this week for their second dose. 

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

With files from Dalia Ashry

now