A judgement-free space: Canada’s first dedicated vaccine education clinic
As we move into fall, COVID-19 case counts and the Delta variant are looming. While vaccination rates in Canada continue to be among the highest in the world, around 18% of the eligible population remains unvaccinated. With the fourth wave already here, the unvaccinated are most at risk of infection, serious disease and hospital admission.
To encourage vaccination Dr. Latif Murji launched the VaxFacts Clinic, a judgement-free phone line where people can speak to a doctor about COVID-19 vaccination. Based at Scarborough Health Network (SHN), the VaxFacts Clinic was designed with the local community in mind.
“At the height of the third wave, 16 out of 17 postal codes in Scarborough were COVID-19 hotspots,” says Dr. Murji, who is a family doctor at SHN and Lecturer in the Department of Family and Community Medicine. “In our community we have a high percentage of front-line workers, racialized Canadians and multi-generational households. These are people that have borne the brunt of COVID-19 and were rightfully prioritized for vaccination, yet we saw slower uptake initially. We started VaxFacts to fill this gap and build trust within our community, and we’ve been successful so far.”
For individuals who have questions or concerns about vaccination, Dr. Murji and his team of family doctors and internal medicine specialists offer 20-minute one-to-one calls that can be booked through the VaxFacts website. With slots available 9am-8pm seven days a week, and a live interpretation service, the team is working hard to remove as many barriers as possible. They even help with appointment booking.
“We get people calling from all backgrounds and all walks of life. Some people have a lot to say, and I do a lot of listening,” says Dr. Murji, who is also the SHN health equity coordinator.
“Everyone who calls cares about their health and the health of their family and friends — they want to do what is best to protect themselves. Having questions or concerns is completely reasonable, by listening, understanding their values and affirming them we can often put their minds at ease.”
Initially, the vaccine confidence clinic was only available to SHN healthcare workers and then Scarborough residents. Now, anyone across Canada can access the service with no health insurance number required.
Over 400 people have made use of the service so far, with 85% going on to get a vaccine. Dr. Murji believes the personal connection, ‘no pressure’ approach and lack of distractions are key to the clinic’s success.
Beyond the phone clinic, the VaxFacts team is also active in the community, speaking at vaccine pop-ups, social events, workplaces and even a local hummus factory. They are also empowering community members such as Youth Violence Prevention staff and University of Toronto student ambassadors to have open conversations about vaccination and refer people to the clinic if needed.
To book a 20-minute phone appointment visit https://www.shn.ca/vaxfacts/.