Even in hot spots, newcomers to Canada are missing out on COVID-19 vaccines

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Refugees, immigrants and other recent newcomers to Ontario are being vaccinated for COVID-19 at much lower rates than Canadian-born or long-term residents, new data shows.

And even with the provincial government’s revised vaccination rollout plan prioritizing hot spots, newcomers living in neighbourhoods most at risk for transmission continue to experience the lowest rates of vaccination compared to those who were born in Canada or who have lived here for more than 35 years, according to a new report by the non-profit ICES, formerly the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.

The report acknowledges that the province’s decision to target hot spots and expand age eligibility in early April has resulted in an overall increase in vaccinations in these neighbourhoods, but finds that vaccine coverage continues to lag in immigrants, refugees and recent OHIP registrants, including older adults. 

“There’s age risk and there’s transmission risk, and we know that immigrants and refugees are overrepresented in essential workers, and we know that many immigrant communities live multi-generationally,” said Dr. Astrid Guttmann, chief science officer of ICES and lead author of the report. “So the risk of transmission is higher and they’re less vaccinated. We need it to be the other way around.”

In the province as a whole, Guttmann and her team found that, as of April 26, vaccine coverage in Canadian-born and long-term residents 16 years of age and older was 38 per cent, compared to 28 per cent in immigrants, 22 per cent in refugees and 12 per cent in recent OHIP registrants. 

The report notes that large percentages of Canadian-born and long-term residents aged 70 and over have been vaccinated, between 71 and 86 per cent. But in the same age cohort among immigrants, refugees and recent OHIP registrants (with the exception of recent OHIP registrants in the lowest-risk neighbourhoods), vaccine coverage has ranged between 47 and 65 per cent. 

“We’ve seen within a hot spot, not everyone is feeling the heat equally,” said Dr. Andrew Boozary, executive director of social medicine at University Health Network. “And that is where we need to continue to be more data driven, being led by communities as to how to best reach the most disadvantaged populations, even within a postal code.”

He noted that the provincial government’s announcement Thursday that it will shift 50 per cent of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine supply to the 114 hardest hit neighbourhoods for two weeks starting next week was “definitely welcome” but that not doing so earlier “has come with very real costs.”

Last Friday, Ontario’s Science Advisory Table published a brief recommending immediately moving half of the province’s vaccine supply to the 74 highest-risk neighbourhoods for four weeks, a strategy it said could dramatically cut case counts, hospitalizations and deaths. 

Safia Ahmed, executive director of the Rexdale Community Health Centre, said she was not surprised by the ICES report’s findings, noting that many recent immigrants are essential workers who are not able to get to vaccination sites unless the locations are open on evenings and weekends. 

“When you think about the way vaccines have rolled out across the city, with mass vaccination sites that require online bookings, that’s a challenge, definitely, for new Canadians and immigrant seniors,” she said. 

Having clinics closer to home staffed with people who speak different languages, and who are a “familiar face,” all helps.

She noted that her organization learned during COVID-19 testing that “the more local, the more community-based services are, the more trust people have.”

Sabina Vohra-Miller, co-founder of the South Asian Health Network, said many older new Canadians may not have the digital literacy or language skills to navigate the complex web of online vaccine booking portals. And their children and grandchildren may not have time to support them if they are essential workers.

“It’s a Hunger Games style right now,” she said, adding those that are tech savvy and work from home have a huge advantage. 

“Who’s sitting in front of the computer waiting for appointments?”

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2021/04/30/even-in-hot-spots-newcomers-to-canada-are-missing-out-on-covid-19-vaccines.html

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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