Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been slow, lagging behind Israel, the United States and the United Kingdom. With about 220,000 doses administered to date, it’s estimated that the country must deliver the medicine 13.5 times faster if it hopes to inoculate the majority of Canadians by September 2021. To ramp up the pace, Ontario Premier Doug Ford is now promising that every long-term-care resident (as well as essential caregivers and healthcare workers) living in the province’s four hot spots will be vaccinated by January 21.
Such a shift requires more inoculation sites. To that end, on January 5, MaRS and the University Health Network (UHN) announced that the MaRS Centre would be home to Ontario’s newest vaccine clinic for long-term care staff as well as acute-care staff from hospitals within walking distance — UHN, Women’s College Hospital, SickKids, Sinai Health and Toronto Grace Health Centre. “As UHN’s neighbour and partner, we’re proud to deliver the COVID-19 vaccine to those fighting this devastating virus,” says MaRS Centre vice president Nina Gazzola.
Set up in the MaRS Auditorium, the clinic is prioritizing long-term care workers, acute care workers as well as paramedics. Those eligible for a vaccine are being notified from their hospital or leadership team. How long the MaRS Centre remains a vaccination site — and whether it eventually serves the general public — will depend on future supply of the vaccine and the mandate of the province.
“The MaRS Centre is the ideal location for a vaccination clinic” says Dr. Kevin Smith, CEO of UHN. The building was chosen for its close proximity to downtown hospitals, as well as its tremendous amount of space, he says. Inoculation sites have very specific requirements to maintain physical distancing: in addition to its 18 vaccine stations, the clinic includes a registration area, a pharmacy (formerly a prep kitchen) for readying shots, supply room and space to observe the 15-minute wait period after receiving injection. The MaRS Centre is also a staple of the health community — it houses Public Health Ontario (epicentre of the province’s COVID-19 testing), connects directly with Toronto General, and boasts research tenants like the University of Toronto, JLabs and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research.
UHN aims to administer 1,000 doses per vaccination site, per day. And in its first full day of operation on January 6, the MaRS clinic delivered 1,150 vaccines. But supply in Canada is already running out, another unwelcome challenge given deadlier coronavirus strains with higher rates of transmission are surfacing around the world. Until more doses arrive (Dr. Smith suggests that the impending approval of the cheaper, lower-maintenance AstraZeneca/University of Oxford candidate will hugely bolster Ontario’s efforts), the road to herd immunity remains long. Still, healthcare workers that received shots at MaRS this week expressed relief and gratitude.
“It still feels so hard to believe how quickly this all came together. I feel very lucky right now — I’m more comfortable coming to work and dealing with everything. I can’t wait for the rest of the people in my life to get it. We’ll all celebrate at that point.”
— Karen Weishuhn, Mount Sinai
“It means safety for me and my family; and safety for my patients and their families. I work with children and they’re so vulnerable. It feels good to be vaccinated and hopefully getting somewhat of a normal life back on track for everyone.”
— Nick Tales, SickKids
“I was very excited to get it because it means protecting not just myself, but the people I work with, and the populations I work with. It’s just one step closer to ending this pandemic. I hope going forward most people realize that this vaccine is about protecting the vulnerable. I hope everyone gets it.”
— Gabrielle Ingratta, SickKids
For more information on Ontario’s vaccination program, click here.