It sounds like a terrible pitch for a reality TV show in the COVID era.
You receive a knock on your door. Surprise! You’re being vaccinated.
Once contestants talked about their heartwarming backstories, perhaps there could be a series of physical or mental competitions to decide who got what vaccines. The winners end up with Pfizer or Moderna. If you finish in the middle of the pack, you get Johnson & Johnson. The first to get eliminated ends up with Sinovac.
Is Jeff Probst available to host? Talk about giving a new meaning to those immunity challenges on “Survivor.”
Sadly, the premise for this joke isn’t just hypothetical. In Toronto, health officials in protective gear visited residents in public housing from an area deemed to be high-risk, according to the Toronto Star. The staff from Humber River Hospital in the Canadian city had a table full of vaccines for residents who answered the door as part of a program arranged through their provincial parliament member, Faisal Hassan.
The problem was that it was a pop-up vaccination effort in every sense of the word: Residents said communication on the vaccinations was poor or nonexistent, including details on how to register for it. Given the lack of notification, some people weren’t even home when officials came to vaccinate them.
“I honestly do not think that enough focus has been placed on people’s health, instead of what has been placed on economy,” 80-year-old Tidy Francis said.
According to the Star, Francis “rushed to the doorway and yelled in the hallway to medical staff asking if he could get the vaccine” at his age.
“When they need you to vote? They know how to get to you. They have all these booths all over the place when they needed to vote, when it’s the takeaway health they should have something that’s similar.”
There were 113 residents who were registered and had their health cards ready, but some said they didn’t know about the visit until the knock came. Francis said he was notified, but not “until the last minute” so he “didn’t have the opportunity to register” via a door-to-door outreach program, the Star reported.
A resident in her 40s said she hadn’t been made aware those in her age group were eligible for vaccinations, either.
“I didn’t think people in their 40s were, you know, eligible to get a vaccine yet, so I was [surprised] and happy at the same time,” said 46-year-old Fola Ogunti.
However, she said her partner wasn’t at home when the pop-up vaccination program happened and there were no emails or notices from Toronto Community Housing, the public housing authority that organized the vaccination program. Nor, she said, did she get any notification about her doctor at a local hospital, who usually advises her on vaccination updates.
Ogunti contacted Hassan, who provided her with details to get her partner added to a list for a visit.
The member of Ontario’s provincial parliament blamed — you guessed it — historical inequality.
“The inequalities that exist here is unacceptable,” Hassan told the Star.
“People have been calling me, emailing me and telling me, where do we register? Where do we get all of our vaccines?” he said.
“So what they are simply trying to do is they are letting us down again and again. And this will be continued the capacity that we have become after thought in this community. That’s unacceptable.”
It’s unclear whether Hassan did anything to inform people in the building, however, beyond communicating with Toronto Community Housing.
The government housing authority officials were the ones who were supposed to be responsible for telling residents about the door-to-door vaccination program. However, given the disaster-tastic way in which it was rolled out — and the relatively high probability of disaster before things went south — this might have been something Hassan ought to have followed up on.
Toronto Community Housing is convinced it did its part, too. Bruce Malloch, the agency’s director of strategic communications, said the rollout was “very coordinated.”
“[Toronto Community Housing Corporation] staff knocked on every door in the building (391 units) on Thursday April 1 to inform tenants about the clinic and register them if they said they wanted the vaccine,” he said in an email. “If no one was home, staff left behind a notice with a name and phone number that tenants could call if they wanted to sign up for the vaccine. A number of them did so.”
Malloch emphasized that the agency doesn’t “have a lot of dealings with the province” and said they were the ones responsible for “determining the vaccines, who gets vaccinated and its rollout.”
He added the public housing authority did its part by putting posters on every floor, which is almost the least it could have done without doing nothing. There were also emails to some residents, although apparently not even close to all of them.
Whatever the case may have been, Toronto Community Housing had also washed its hands of doing serious universal outreach about the door-to-door vaccination program, putting the onus on provincial authorities.
If Malloch pointed the finger at a specific agency in charge of the program in his email, Toronto Star writer Danica Samuel left them unmentioned. It’s probably best she didn’t go down that rabbit hole, anyhow, considering that they would have doubtlessly pointed the finger at another politician or agency who was responsible for notifying residents. That entity, in turn would have pointed the finger at someone else, and Samuel would have gone way past deadline careening from email to email like a ping-pong ball bouncing off of every bumper of responsibility-shirking in Ontario’s provincial health care and political apparatus.
So, Season 1, Episode 1 of “Surprise! You’re Being Vaccinated” ended somewhat anticlimactically. Residents seemed duly surprised, all right, although none who was caught unawares seemed wholly pleased about the low-level Publishers Clearing House immunity curveball.
Bungled COVID immunization rollouts come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, although this happens to be one of the more novel botches.
What they all have in common, however, is a waste of precious resources that could have been prevented. In this case, if some authority — any authority — had stepped up and ensured that communication about the program was thorough, with several layers of redundancy to ensure everyone was notified, we wouldn’t be talking about this.
Ghastly as it may sound, in fact, turning this over to a reality show may have been more effective. Say what you will about a tawdry spectacle like Jeff Probst in a face shield and PPE, telling a sobbingly grateful octogenarian she was getting Pfizer instead of Sinovac because her background story was appropriately heartstring-tugging. At least the private sector would have made sure, if need be, that she knew someone would be knocking at her door to give her the vaccine.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.