On March 24 2021, Canadian Green Party leader Annamie Paul wrote an open letter to the mayor of Toronto, John Tory, as well as the premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, bringing forth the consequences that COVID-19 has had on the racialized communities of Toronto over the past year.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunisation
Following the recent recommendations of the National Advisory Committee on Immunisation (NACI) updated on March 16 2021, actions must be taken in order to include “systemically marginalized populations and racialized populations in immunization program planning”.
NACI is a group of experts and specialists in diverse fields (such as pharmacology, immunology, nursing, etc.) that works towards providing transparent and accessible information to Canadians regarding matters of public health.
According to the page dedicated to them on the Government of Canada’s official website: “NACI makes recommendations for the use of vaccines currently or newly approved for use in humans in Canada, including the identification of groups at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases for whom vaccination should be targeted.”
In Annamie Paul’s letter to mayor Tory and premier Ford, she mentions the proportion of adults in racialized communities surrounding the Toronto area (notably North and South St. James Town, Regent Park and Moss Park) that are faced with higher infection rates of COVID-19 compared to other neighbourhoods.
How are these communities faced with higher risks?
These people are more likely to occupy jobs that expose them to higher risks of contracting the virus, do not always have access to adequate housing conditions, and most often travel in heavily crowded methods of transportation.
According to Dilshad Burman in their article on Toronto City News, a certain number of pharmacies in the Toronto area conducting the AstraZeneca vaccine pilot program are currently only administering doses to individuals that are 60 years old or older.
The infrastructure required to distribute more vaccines is already present, which could help accelerate the rate at which people receive their first doses.
Paul believes this needs to change as soon as possible in order to help protect these highly vulnerable communities and to avoid the growing rate of infections, especially in those heavily impacted neighbourhoods.
At the end of her letter, Paul writes that every adult over the age of 18 years old living in one of the aforementioned communities should become a part of the AstraZeneca vaccine pilot without any further delay:
“With the highest positivity rates in Toronto, I am writing to ask you to ensure that, beginning tomorrow, the racialized and marginalized adults (18+) living in North and South St. James Town, Regent Park and Moss Park have access to a COVID-19 vaccine via the AstraZeneca pilot program, as per the NACI recommendation.”
Mayor Tory and premier Ford’s comments
Dilshad Burman’s article also mentioned that the press secretary for mayor Tory, Lawvin Hadisi, confirmed that Paul’s letter had been received. Although mayor Tory commented that the city would look into expanding the number of pharmacies participating in the pilot program, especially in the most hard hit communities, there was no comment regarding lowering the age range to make COVID-19 vaccines more accessible to adults.
Premier Ford has also not made a comment yet.