Vaccinating in a COVID-19 Hotspot: The challenges and rewards

These last four months have been a whirlwind for Humber River Hospital. Establishing a vaccine clinic in North Western Toronto, a COVID-19 “hot-spot,” has had its challenges yet is replete with rewards.

“Meeting the vaccination needs of our Northwest Toronto community has been a massive team effort requiring dedication for our staff and physicians, our Ontario Health Partners and our colleagues from other Toronto hospitals,” says Barb Collins, President & CEO of Humber River Hospital.

Intense initial planning

“We began planning our vaccine clinic December 14th and opened our doors on December 23rd,” says Sudha Kutty, Vice President, Strategy and External Relations at Humber. “Planning was intense during those first nine days. At the time, there were already two early clinics in Ontario, at University Health Network (UHN) and in Ottawa, and we used their top-level planning to help guide us.”

The Humber River Hospital vaccine clinic was first opened in the third-floor auditorium of the Hospital.  As volumes increased, additional space was added on the main floor to support flow and for better accessibility.

Mobilizing staff for the clinic

While hospitals have run flu clinics, running a COVID-19 vaccination clinic was a whole other level of complexity. “Along with planning the physical space, we had to mobilize staff and volunteers,” indicates Kutty. “Two nurses, Jane Cornelius and Jane Sanders, came out of retirement from Humber on January 4 to co-manage the clinic.”

“When we came on board, Humber had already established a framework for the clinic and were targeting staff to get vaccinated,” explains Cornelius. “Our jobs were to streamline the clinic and improve operations and efficiency.”

“The clinic was still in its infancy, and we were vaccinating staff who had highest priority, who were facing patients,” says Sanders. “And then we started vaccinating essential caregivers at long-term care homes. Later, the roll out evolved with the patients’ age groups.”

Community outreach

Humber River Hospital serves a large geography that has been hit hard by COVID-19. Once the clinic began vaccinating the general public, the hospital decided to work with its partners to further reach the community.

In addition to the in-hospital vaccine clinic, it supported vaccination clinics at its Ontario Health Team (OHT) partners – Runnymede and West Park Healthcare Centre and Black Creek Community Health Centre – as well as mobile clinics at congregate settings in the Jane and Finch corridor working with Lumacare and LOFT.

“We have also focused on faith communities, including churches and a local mosque,” says Ruben Rodriguez, the lead for vaccine outreach at Humber.

“We have been using the leadership in these communities to support engagement,” adds Rodriguez. “By doing this, we helped educate seniors in the community before their vaccination dates so that uptake was higher. Our presence in faith communities also enabled seniors to be in familiar surroundings so they could feel more comfortable with the vaccine.”

Using nursing students

One challenge with running the in-hospital and outreach clinics was having enough staff to administer the vaccines.

“We partnered with fourth year nursing students at Ryerson University to fulfill many of the aspects of vaccination, and in turn provided them the opportunity to learn good clinical skills,” says Sanders.

Move to Downsview Arena

With the in-hospital vaccine clinic, some issues arose with foot traffic on the main floor, since both vaccine recipients and non-vaccination hospital patients were coming through the same areas. As a result, the clinic was recently moved out of the hospital entirely – to Downsview Arena.

“This decision was made quickly and executed smoothly,” says Kutty. “It was two weeks from the date of our first site visit to Downsview Arena to opening our doors. We took all of the lessons we had learned since the middle of December, what worked well and what the challenges were, and applied these lessons to our new Downsview Arena clinic.”


“We are grateful to be able to offer the community many options for vaccination and thank the many leaders in the community who have provided advice and ambassadorship in this endeavor,” says Collins.

Running the vaccine clinic has been “one of the fastest initiatives we’ve been involved with at Humber River Hospital,” says Sanders. “We had a great senior team who made everything happen quickly, who took barriers out of the way to get organized and move people through. The expectations were challenging, and Humber staff were committed to the response.”

“Many of the seniors we’ve encountered have been fulfilling the public health directives, wearing masks, washing hands, and not going out,” says Sanders. “And to see their smiles, and their relief that hope is on the horizon, is very rewarding. We’re all getting through this together.”