Vaccine rollout to homeless people in Toronto’s shelters put on hold due to supply shortage

A pilot project that aimed to vaccinate homeless people in Toronto’s shelters has been put on hold due to a vaccine shortage, local officials said Wednesday.

The rollout of the vaccine to the city’s 100 shelters was paused because of a shortage of the vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech, which announced last week it would delay the delivery of the COVID-19 vaccines to Canada due to production issues.

Dr. Stephen Hwang of St. Michael’s Hospital, which is helping run the project with the city and several other organizations, said 55 residents and 30 staff at Scarborough Village Residence, a city-run shelter in the east end, got their first dose on Friday.

“It was, overall, a resounding success,” said Hwang, a physician and research scientist who works with the homeless.

“We’re pleased that it’s actually rolling out because it really should be a high priority to get people who are experiencing homelessness vaccinated.”

“It’s something that we do have to work on and certainly for people experiencing homelessness a degree of skepticism or mistrust of the health-care system is probably a bit higher than in the general population,” Hwang said.

Vaccinations at a shelter for Indigenous men was also paused as was the plan to vaccinate those living at the downtown Strathcona Hotel, where many of the city’s homeless moved to after living in encampments much of the year.

Hwang said he was hopeful the vaccines would only be delayed by a few weeks.

He said the team, which includes the Inner City Health Associates, a group of 100 physicians who work at shelters and drop-ins across the city, would analyze the progress of the pilot and fine-tune it before it’s rolled out to the rest of the shelters.

“The goal is to develop a playbook so that we can have a plan that we can go out to immunize people in shelters across the city,” he said.

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