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

Staff and volunteers at some vaccination clinics in the city 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 Kensington-Chinatown neighbourhood, which was designed to get first doses into the arms of community members, was inundated with people from regions as far as Thornhill who aggressively demanded staff and volunteers for a second dose on Wednesday. 

“It was totally bullying and intimidation,” said Danny Anckle, executive director of Cecil Community Centre.

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 lined up across the street “staring down” the neighbourhood residents that were in line for a first dose “in a really intimidating way.”

“You know, it took a long time for us to convince [area residents] to come out and get a vaccine. 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,” he said. 

He 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, says she is 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 emphasized that 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. 

It added second dose appointments are being actively discussed with the province.

Salamon, however, says 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,” said Dr. Karim Kurji, York Region’s medical officer of health, 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 says 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. 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 says 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.

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