Windsor

UWindsor researcher maps which Windsor neighbourhoods need help accessing vaccines

A data analyst at the University of Windsor, who is exploring the connection between COVID-19 vaccines and neighbourhood demographics, says some areas need better access to the shot. 

Map pinpoints 4 regions in Windsor-Essex with gaps in vaccine accessibility

Sign outside of Windsor Hall COVID-19 vaccination clinic in downtown Windsor. (Marine Lefevre/Radio-Canada)

A data analyst at the University of Windsor exploring the connection between COVID-19 vaccines and neighbourhood demographics has identified some Windsor areas that should better access to the shot. 

 Carina Luo, a geo-spatial data analyst says her research has revealed four areas in Windsor-Essex that have a large percentage of the target vaccine population (people aged 40 and older), but also a significant percentage of low-income residents — a demographic that already faces significant barriers to accessing healthcare. 

Yet, these areas don't have a clinic offering a COVID-19 vaccine in walking distance (2 kilometres). There are currently 57 pharmacies across Windsor-Essex offering a vaccine. 

Luo's discovery highlights the barriers some communities may be facing and the need for officials to consider targeted community interventions that overcome these gaps. 

"If people don't have a private vehicle it's probably very hard for them to get out of their immediate neighbourhood to get a vaccine," she said. 

Luo has created a web application that can identify service gaps in vaccine availability across the province by mapping out where the shot is being handed out. But her tool also allows users to overlay vaccination location with neighbourhood demographics. 

Carina Luo is a geospatial data analyst at the University of Windsor. She says the map she has created can point to evidence-based approaches. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

By choosing various data sets, Luo's map shows visually where people who can't work from home live, where low-income communities are and where the province's targeted vaccine age group are located, among other key characteristics. 

All of the data is pulled from Statistic's Canada's 2016 census. 

"[It's] interesting to see whether these pharmacies are offered in areas that are most needed," Luo said. 

"I'm interested to see whether there's a gap and how this information can help policy makers, public health practitioners and researchers to identify service gaps and maybe propose a mobile clinic to meet these community needs." 

Check out Luo's web application below

Four regions in Windsor-Essex with 'service gap'

The areas Luo identified include: 

  • A neighbourhood in Sandwich Towne.
  • A neighbourhood north of the Windsor Airport.
  • A neighbourhood in Tecumseh. 
  • A neighbourhood in Comber, near Tilbury. 

The first three on that list are in areas that have had high case rates throughout the pandemic, according to data compiled by ICES, a research institute focused on health issues in Ontario.

The neighbourhood in Comber, near Tilbury also has nearly 50 per cent of people who can't work from home. 

The chart below outlines the percentage of the population in each area that is 40 and older and the percentage who are low-income.

Location % of population 40 and older % of low-income residents
Neighbourhood in Sandwich Towne 65.2 15.2
Neighbourhood north of Windsor International Airport 61.2 20.5
Neighbourhood in Tecumseh 68 17.9
Neighbourhood in Comber, near Tilbury 57.6 15.2

 

Transit Windsor is offering free service to those travelling to a mass vaccination clinic. For some that can mean taking more than one bus and will require anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to get to a clinic. The city has not specified whether it is also providing free travel to pharmacies.

Though Luo's app does not include the location of mass vaccination clinics, the areas she identified are also not within walking distance of these sites. 

For example, people living in the N8W postal code, which Luo identified as having a service gap and which is also in an area with high case rates — the closest pharmacy offering a vaccine is 3.54 km away. 

According to Google Maps, that would mean a 53 minute walk or, to minimize walking, requires at least two buses that would total a 40 minute commute. 

The closest mass vaccination site to that region is the WFCU Centre, which would take more than an hour to get to by transit using two different buses. 

The closest pharmacy to those living in the N8W postal code is 3.54km away, according to Luo's pharmacy application. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

On Monday, the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce launched a new initiative that provides free taxi rides for people living in seven hot spot postal codes (N8X, N8Y, N9A, N9B, N9C, N8H, N9Y) who are unable to arrange their own transportation to a vaccine site.

Vaccine rollout must be 'flexible'

An app like Luo's offers public health officials an insight to the most vulnerable communities, some experts in the community told CBC News. 

Zain Ismail, a cross-border health care consultant who is knowledgeable on the vaccine rollout in the United States, said the map points out places to "invest first." 

"We need to be strategic about where we're getting the most bang for our buck ... in the early days I want to make sure that I'm distributing the vaccine in places where there's potentially the highest risk for infection, the highest risk for spread and ultimately death," he said. 

Identifying areas where people can't work from home or are of lower income, he said, can be useful in informing the local health unit where they need to set up mobile clinics or invest in transportation to get people to sites for vaccination. 

But the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit has said that mobile clinics are resource intensive and it hasn't revealed any plans to carry ones out in specific communities. 

Zain Ismail is a cross-border healthcare consultant and has knowledge on the vaccine rollout in the U.S. (Tahmina Aziz/CBC)

However the health unit has made some steps toward more targeted efforts. It sent a team to vaccinate seniors in their apartment buildings and, starting next week, plans to go into the community to vaccinate those receiving chronic home care. 

Yet, Ismail says it's also important to not get too caught up in the data or rolling out the vaccine in the most equitable way possible, because it will never be perfect. 

"We should use [the data], consider it, but if we start to feel that solving for what's on that map slows us down from ultimately getting as many doses out then we need to focus on getting doses out," he said. 

For Hugo Vega, regional manager of settlement and integration services at the YMCA for southwestern Ontario, he says the app helps to visualize the "barriers that priority populations have," such as lack of transportation, working hours, family dynamics, financial and health situations. 

"These are all really important factors that we need to think about when we're trying to reach out to communities, because everyone is going to have a different capacity or ability to access those services," he said. 

Vega is most interested in the newcomer populations, which he says do require additional resources to engage and ensure access to information.

At this time, he said the YMCA, Windsor-Essex County Health Unit and other key partners are working to support newcomer populations in getting vaccinated.

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