The Current

Here's what to expect when you go to get your COVID-19 vaccine

A trip to the University Health Network vaccination clinic in Toronto’s MaRS Centre can entail some tears, some hope — and quite a few selfies.

Patients shed tears of joy, sorrow and relief, says UHN president Kevin Smith

Vivian Musni received her first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine last Thursday. She promised her kids she'd get a picture as it happened — and here it is! (Kate Cornick/CBC)

Story Transcript

Before she got her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine last week, Vivian Musni was issued some strict instructions by her kids.

"They told me like, 'Mommy, can you just take a picture? I want to see,'" said Musni, who works in administrative support at Altum Health in Toronto.

She got her shot — and her photo — at the University Health Network vaccine clinic in Toronto's MaRS Centre.

"It feels great … I'm so excited to just let them know that Mommy's safe," she told The Current's Matt Galloway, who visited the site last week.

The clinic is one of three run by UHN, which has vaccinated more than 50,000 people since mid-December.

Emily Musing, chief patient safety officer, left, and Kevin Smith, president and CEO, right, of University Health Network. The UHN team has vaccinated more than 50,000 people since mid-December. (Kate Cornick/CBC)

Kevin Smith, president and CEO of UHN, said those months have been filled with excitement, hope, and "a lot of tears, often tears of joy, but not always."

"Our long-term care colleagues, when they are coming in, their tears are often related to the people they lost," he said.

There have also been tears of relief from front-line workers who have been "scared going home every night, worrying about bringing this disease to their families," he said.

What to expect on V-Day

Anyone arriving at the clinic is screened for COVID-19 symptoms before entering to protect everyone from the spread of the virus. After completing paperwork at reception, the patient is then directed to a booth where the vaccine is administered, by a nurse.

"Everyone is different, but everyone wants to take pictures," said registered nurse Jasmine Zerari, who has been administering vaccinations at the site since January.

She said the people she's helped "are really excited to get it, and feel really lucky."

Zerari said she tries to make the experience as comfortable as possible so people won't have any qualms about coming back for their next dose.

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In an interview on Rosemary Barton Live, Emily Musing from the University Health Network says the level of excitement and delight is palpable at its Toronto COVID-19 vaccination clinic. 3:03

Once the shot is given, patients are handed a slip of paper with the exact timing, and moved to a socially distanced waiting area. They are asked to spend 15 minutes under observation, and to alert staff if they start to feel any adverse effects.

Smith said the clinic has had "almost no one with a reaction," and the reactions they have seen "have been very modest."

After the observation period, the patient is free to go. On the way out, they're given information about adverse reactions, scheduling their next dose, and a document confirming their vaccination.

From start to finish, appointments can be as quick as 30 minutes.

UHN is one of 19 hospital sites in Ontario currently offering vaccines to key populations, as determined by the government of Ontario and City of Toronto. So far, the UHN program offers Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines on site, while mobile health teams bring Moderna vaccines out to long-term care homes.

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The atrium of the stadium, once home to the Montreal Expos, has been converted into a vaccination site. 0:45

While the UHN sites are among the first, the vaccination experience across the country could end up being quite similar, said Emily Musing, chief patient safety officer at UHN.

Musing said UHN has compiled a "playbook" from the experience of setting up one of the first mass vaccination sites.

"We've shared it with other hospitals and we've shared that with Toronto Public Health so that other individuals don't have to start from scratch," she said.

'We don't shake it'

Before those shots can reach the arms of Canadians, they need to be prepped in the on-site pharmacy.

Elena Palacios is one of the technicians working at the UHN vaccine clinic at MaRS. To prep a single shot, she starts with a 6-dose vial of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine

"It's very delicate, so we don't shake it," said Palacios.

Elena Palacios works in the on-site pharmacy at the UHN vaccination clinic at the MaRS Centre in Toronto. She prepares the individual doses that are then given to patients. (Kate Cornick/CBC)

Instead the vial is gently turned upside down 10 times to make sure the contents haven't separated; 1.8 ml of saline is then added to reconstitute or dilute the mix, and the vial is again inverted 10 times.

Individual shots are then drawn into syringes. The syringes are capped, with an extra safety clasp, and then placed in trays to be brought out to the vaccination booths. 

Palacios said the process is a "bit fiddly," but "you have to think this is going into somebody and, you know, it's a pretty hot commodity."

She came out of retirement to join the vaccination effort.

"It's been really special for me … makes me feel good to feel like I'm helping people," she said.

Ramping up, and tackling vaccine hesitancy

Another person hoping to join the vaccination effort is Julie McIntyre, a retired family doctor who got her first shot at the clinic last week. 

"I'm hoping that this will now enable me to volunteer to give the shot as it's rolling out," said McIntyre, who now works in counselling and advance care planning in end-of-life care. 

Julie McIntyre is a retired family doctor. She hopes getting vaccinated is the first step toward being able to help administer vaccines herself. (Kate Cornick/CBC)

Smith said plans are being drawn up to recruit and train suitable candidates to administer vaccines as the rollout ramps up. 

"Our health-care providers, they actually need to go back and ramp up our other health-care activities. So having a new workforce to do that will be tremendously helpful," he said.

But he said that "our number one rate-limiting factor is not people — it's vaccines."

As of Monday morning, the CBC Coronavirus Tracker put the number of doses distributed in Canada at 2,671,050 and the number of people fully vaccinated at 565,719. That number puts Canada 43rd in the world for percentage of population fully vaccinated, according to data from John Hopkins University.

Smith said that "when you take on something for 35 million Canadians it will never be perfect." 

"But do I think everybody got up every day to do their best and tried their hardest? They did."

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto earlier this year. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Health Canada approved the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot on Friday. The vaccine becomes the fourth approved in Canada, joining the country's arsenal of two-dose vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca-Oxford. On the same day, the federal government announced that Pfizer would deliver an additional 3.5 million doses over March, April and May, that were originally scheduled to arrive this summer.

Last week also saw updated recommendations from Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), that will allow provinces to space out the interval between doses up to four months. Several provinces have already adopted the longer gap, which means more Canadians can be offered a first dose from existing supplies.

Smith said the news from NACI was "a very mixed bag."

"It will make a big difference in terms of logistics in a positive way. It's making a very negative impact on people who are frightened," he said.

He worries that the move could increase vaccine hesitancy, and added that people who have already had their first dose are protesting that they did not agree to wait four months for the second.

Musing said that "at all costs, we tell people, 'Please continue to get that second shot, no matter when it is.' We want them to complete their therapy."


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Julie Crysler and Kate Cornick.

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