After a dark period last year as a nationwide COVID-19 hotspot, the Brampton and Peel region has emerged as one of the most vaccinated communities in the country.
As of Friday, 86 percent of residents 12 years and older in the Peel region are fully vaccinated, and 90 percent of residents 12 years and older have received a first shot. The region now sees an average of 40 cases a day. This time last year, that number was more than 10 times higher.
“I think it’s talking about how our society has gone up,” said Peel Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lawrence Loh.
He says the way in which a diverse region facing critical language and social barriers came together to get shot in the arms is an important story.
“It’s been a whole community effort that has actually made the difference in reaching our high vaccination rates,” he told CBC News.
While this effort started with public health staff working 24/7, and municipal, regional and provincial governments imposed masks and vaccine certificates, Loh says, it also involved a collaboration between Peel Public Health and local groups such as Indus Community Services, Punjabi Community Health Services, Roots Community Services and many more.
Community groups were ‘tireless’
Other organizations, such as the Canadian Muslim COVID-19 Task Force, the South Asian COVID-19 Task Force, the Latin American COVID-19 Task Force, and the Black Health Task Force, informed their respective communities about the virus, testing, and vaccinations in languages that residents spoke from sources they trusted.
“They were tireless … They went door-to-door setting up bookings and transportation networks to get people to go to clinics and work with us to set up mobile clinics,” Loh said.
“It was actually a big secret behind our success,” he added.
The groups helped remove what Loh describes as “hard barriers,” such as finding time off work, or getting to a clinic, or talking to a doctor or nurse in a familiar language. He says that when these barriers were removed, vaccinations increased.
“Many new Canadians, race-based populations, have connections to places where other vaccine-preventable diseases are quite prevalent … They have a healthy respect for the science and efficacy behind vaccines,” Loh said.
“So you see a greater willingness to act, to take the vaccine where access can be given.”
Dr. Hashim Khan, co-chair of the Canadian Muslim COVID-19 Task Force, says Muslim doctors and imams came together to discuss the impact the virus would have not only on Muslims in Peel, but across Canada.
“We knew our community had a lot of risk factors like multi-generational homes, significant work, lower levels of health skills that would contribute to the spread of the virus,” Khan said.
‘We wanted to remove misunderstandings’
The Brampton Islamic Center was one of the mosques offering test and vaccine clinics through a collaboration between the Canadian Muslim COVID-19 Task Force and Peel Public Health.
“We already have conversations about how we can roll out again for children,” Khan said, referring to vaccinations for children aged five to 11 years.
Last November, when the daily cases in Brampton were at their peak, Dr. Raj Grewal the South Asian COVID-19 Task Force along with other physicians to combat not only misinformation but also false perceptions.
“We had our society disproportionately affected by COVID-19, and the media said the South Asians are not listening to the rules, they are not complying with the lockdown and all that stuff,” he said.
“We wanted to dispel these misconceptions and educate our community,” Grewal added.
They developed messages via social media, started educational campaigns and started informing the community in their own language.
Out of their efforts came a test center and a vaccination clinic run by doctors and nurses who spoke well-known languages such as Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu and others, located at the Embassy Grand Convention Center in Brampton, which has now become one of the largest test centers and vaccine clinics in the province.
The task force also worked with ethnic media, local TV channels in Punjabi and Hindi and even WhatsApp to disseminate information on COVID-19, testing and vaccinations aimed at a South Asian audience.
This work has been carried out in collaboration with Region Peel.
“We did not do it alone, we did it with the help of the Region of Peel, Dr. Lawrence Loh. They did an incredible job with us,” Grewal said. “It really was the key to success.”
Grewal cited a study by the Boston Consulting Group, which was hired to measure the impact of the work the campaign was doing.
“What they found, which was quite remarkable, was that the South Asian population had one of the most dramatic reductions in the hesitation of vaccines in the country,” Grewal said.
“It really shows you how effective the non-traditional methods of getting the word out were.”
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