Bringing vaccines to one of the highest need neighbourhoods

By Isabel Terrell

For many months, hospitals and numerous health and community care organizations have been working together to vaccinate eligible populations against COVID-19. In Toronto, this collaborative effort, known as ‘Team Toronto’, is focused on getting as many residents vaccinated as quickly as possible based on available supply. On July 10, Toronto Mayor John Tory and the City of Toronto launched the Home Stretch Vaccine Push to connect with people on the ground, in their communities and remove the barriers to accessing vaccines. As part of these efforts, a new COVID-19 vaccine clinic was opened in the northwest area of Toronto, an area that has one of the lowest rates of COVID-19 vaccination in Toronto and which has experienced higher rates of COVID-19 infection than the provincial average throughout the pandemic.

In response to the changing needs of Ontario’s healthcare system and the urgency of the provincial vaccine rollout in the wake of a third wave, VHA Home HealthCare (VHA) created THRU, which stands for Tactical HealthCare Response Unit, a strategic team of experienced nurses, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and non-clinical staff who can urgently respond to community health needs and challenges anywhere in the Greater Toronto Area.


THRU is now running this COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Albion Arena in Toronto’s northwest in partnership with University Health Network, City of Toronto and Rexdale Community Health Centre.

“I’m really glad to see that most Torontonians have taken the opportunity to begin the COVID-19 vaccination process. But until we remove barriers for all Torontonians to make an informed decision, we as a health system haven’t done our job. THRU is proud to be part of this important work in the Rexdale community to ensure everyone who wants a COVID-19 vaccine can easily access both first and second doses in their community,” says Susan Chang, Director, Strategic Transformations and Partnerships who created THRU.

To date, THRU has proven themselves to be an innovative resource from the local home care sector, providing a “clinic-in-a-box” service that can be leveraged by the healthcare system across the GTA during this pandemic. The team has creatively operationalized pop-up vaccine clinics in many different locations across Toronto, including Toronto Community Housing buildings, Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs), parks, schools, buses, etc.

“I love working as part of THRU because we are able to go directly into communities and provide information and vaccines to individuals in their own neighbourhood. We’re able to reach those who may not have access otherwise,” says David Yam, Resource Pharmacist Lead on VHA’s THRU.

THRU’s Lynn Sheppard, a team member at the Albion Arena clinic who has also been part of mobile vaccine teams as a Clinical Nursing Lead, has taken note of the team’s success throughout the vaccine rollout. “I’ve had the opportunity to be part of vaccination efforts all over the city and have heard from individuals from many cultures and backgrounds who have been falling through the cracks and don’t have family support or a primary physician to help them through the process of seeking a COVID-19 vaccine. What THRU is doing is really exciting. We’re able to provide support for those individuals by bringing the vaccine to them and provide health teaching resources for communities,” says Lynn.

The new fixed clinic is located at the Albion Arena at 1501 Albion Road. For current hours and eligibility information, please refer to Rexdale Community Health Centre.

Looking forward past the vaccination needs of the pandemic, Chang added, “We look forward to evolving THRU into a team that continues to help local communities fight other urgent health needs moving forward.”

Isabel Terrell  is a Communications Specialist at VHA Home HealthCare.