Bridging the vaccine gap

Mobile vaccination clinic held at local Hindu temple over the weekend

A line of people stretched far down the block at a mobile clinic at Shree Ramji Hindu Temple on Friday. Photo: Matias Brunet-Kirk – NEWSFIRST

Another mobile vaccination clinic was held over the weekend at Shree Ramji Hindu Temple, in an effort to increase immunization rates in Park Extension. The clinic was open Friday and Saturday, offering walk-in vaccination on a first-come-first-serve basis. 

Organized by the CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, these drop-in, no-appointment clinics aim to provide inoculation services to more people in a culturally relevant environment close to people’s homes. 

This was the second clinic hosted in a place of worship in Park Extension. Another was opened during the first weekend of May at the Assuna Annabawiyah Mosque on Hutchison. 

“There’s a large number of people waiting in line. It’s way above our expectations,” said Francine Dupuis, associate CEO of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, which organized the clinic in association with the Gujarati community.

Vaccination gap

“Here the percentage of vaccination has gone from 20 percent to 33 percent in a few weeks,” said Dupuis of the situation in Park Ex. “The objective is to increase that percentage even further,” she added.

Although they are growing, vaccination rates in Park Extension have been lagging behind many other areas of the city. The neighbouring Town of Mount Royal has nearly double that number, with 62% of their population having received at least one dose.

The regional health authority therefore introduced these mobile clinics in an effort to bridge the gap between various cultural communities in the area and health authorities. 

“The religious leaders are people they look up to, people they trust, people they understand – they speak the same language,” 

Vaccination in cultural communities

“In Park Extension, we have a very significant Indian population,” explained Dupuis, adding that she was happy the temple had agreed to open its doors to the clinic. “The population is responding very well to our offer,” she added.

This view was also echoed by temple president Ishwar Patel. “I’m glad that our temple facility has been chosen for this very important health program,” he stated.

The inclusive approach behind the campaign was made clear in the resources that were provided to residents. Interpreters were on hand to translate in several different languages, including Punjabi, Bengali and Hindi.

“Being able to be vaccinated in the community with people next to you who understand you, who can help you weave through all the problems that can arise, this is what is happening,” said borough Mayor Giuliana Fumagalli. “We are fighting systemic racism.”

Relevant service

For many in Park Ex’s South Asian community, this came as a welcome addition in the fight against COVID-19, as it offers service in a linguistically and culturally relatable manner. 

Nirmal Singh is a resident of Park Extension and was at the clinic for his shot on Friday. Originally from the state of Punjab in India, Singh does not speak English or French.

“Instead of going to the far CLSC and having to talk French or English, they can find someone here who can speak English and help them,” said Mohammed Yousuf, a volunteer with the Sarker Hope Foundation, who translated for Singh.

Location was another important consideration for Singh, as he felt both the CLSC on Hutchison and the clinic at the MIL Université de Montréal campus were too far from his house. “This is the most convenient and very near to his home,” added Yousuf.

Sakattr, a Park Ex resident, got his first vaccine dose at the temple. Photo: Matias Brunet-Kirk – NEWSFIRST

Removing barriers 

For many local authorities, this initiative is part of a wide array of tools to get more people in Park Ex vaccinated. “It’s a strategy that is bound to work,” said mayor Fumagalli of how the mobile clinics do a better job of penetrating into cultural and linguistic communities.

“The religious leaders are people they look up to, people they trust, people they understand – they speak the same language,” explained Fumagalli, who helped organize the initiative in the borough. 

This tactic also addresses other barriers to vaccination, such as cultural issues and immigration status. “We lifted one of the barriers by saying that everybody who lived in our community, notwithstanding their status, was able to get tested and also vaccinated,” added Fumagalli.

City councillor Mary Deros was also present at the clinic on Friday and underlined the exceptional results the clinic had at getting more people vaccinated. Deros had also shared information about the campaign on social media. 

Aid from local organizations

Many community organizations were also present to help, doing outreach in the neighbourhood and offering transport services to residents. 

One of those was the Sarker Hope Foundation, which provided rides to elderly residents who would otherwise have a hard time getting to the clinic.

“There’s 60 to 70 percent of people that don’t have the transportation to go to the CLSC,” said Mohammed Yousuf, media coordinator for the foundation. He explained that this was the reason they provided transport free of charge to those who couldn’t drive or walk.

Yousuf also added that the mobile clinic allowed for all people to get vaccinated, regardless of their origin or religious identity. “The people from all religions joined, even here too, It doesn’t matter –  Muslim, Christian – this is a Hindu temple but still the people are coming here” underlined Yousuf. 

The temple will again open its doors to the clinic in September to ensure people get their second dose at the same location. 

Another mobile clinic will open at the Howie Howie-Morenz Arena at 8650 Querbes ave. on Jun. 11 and 12 from 10 AM to 3 PM. Anyone 12 years and up can show up to get their first dose without an appointment and free of charge. 

This was the second clinic hosted in a place of worship in Park Extension. Photo: Matias Brunet-Kirk – NEWSFIRST