Booster barriers: Vulnerable groups in Ontario still struggling to get 3rd dose of COVID-19 vaccine

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, some of Ontario’s most vulnerable residents are having a hard time getting their booster shots, even though the province has made it a priority to get them fully immunized.

Seniors living in long-term care and homebound residents tell CBC Toronto that despite substantial effort, they can’t find a way to get a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, even as many young and healthy people are now triple-vaccinated.

In the case of Ralph Gibson and his wife, who are 89 and 90 and each with just two doses, there’s even a COVID-19 outbreak in their long-term care home. At least 13 staff members at the Harold and Grace Baker Centre in Toronto have tested positive. 

There are no cases among residents, who cannot leave their rooms and have their meals delivered to their door.

“This is pretty crappy to tell the truth. I realize the necessity for it, but that doesn’t mean I like it,” Gibson said of the lockdown.

He’s been trying, with the help of his son, to get a COVID-19 booster shot for weeks, but to no avail.

“I kept hammering away at it because I wanted my wife and I to get all the protection we could. Then we got nowhere,” he said.

Gibson’s son Corey is out of the country right now. He and his wife have been helping all they can from abroad, but he believes his father’s home and public health officials should have been able to arrange boosters by now.

“It’s frustrating because they are in a position right now where there is an outbreak in the home,” Corey Gibson said. “They may view seniors as a vulnerable population but they haven’t made it easy to get their vaccines.”

The Harold and Grace Baker Centre held its last vaccination clinic in November, but at that time the pair were not eligible for a booster based on the recommended interval between their second and third doses.

“Harold and Grace Baker Centre is working with Toronto Public Health to hold a vaccination clinic this month to offer residents third shots, if needed, and fourth shots to residents,” said a statement this week from the home’s operator, Revera Living.

‘They say I’m on a list somewhere’

Seniors living on their own are struggling too.

Marilyn Hall turns 84 on Saturday and lives in Toronto. She’s had two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and is trying to get her third, but it’s not easy.

“Because I can’t get out and stand in line and because I don’t have access to the internet, I’m getting no service. They say I’m on a list somewhere and when my name and number comes up, they’ll do it.”

Care home workers are pictured here getting the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in St. Michael’s Hospital, in Toronto, on Dec. 22, 2020. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Hall hasn’t been able to walk for four years. It takes two people to get her in her wheelchair and last year she found out she has cancer.

“Yesterday, I was getting angry listening to the fact they had a clinic at Don Mills middle school. If it was a summer’s day I might have been able to go up the parkway and get there in my wheelchair, but not in this weather,” Hall said. 

Adding to her concern, earlier she was informed she’d been exposed to COVID-19. Since she rarely leaves home, Hall suspects it was through a personal support worker.

102-year-old war vet can’t get booster

Even some seniors with lots of help from their children can’t seem to find a way to get a booster shot.

Bill Finlay is a 102-year-old Second World War veteran living in Oakville. He has breathing and mobility problems and requires oxygen.

Finlay’s daughter Dorothy Brockbank has been looking for a way to get him a third dose. 

“He needs all the protection he can get. And yet, not happening,” Brockbank said in an interview.

In December, Finlay was accepted for a mobile vaccination program through Halton regional paramedics, but earlier this week it was abruptly cancelled.

Along with her local public health unit, Brockbank has now reached out to her MP and MPP. She got responses, but no concrete action, and feels as though everyone is “passing the buck.”

“I just feel like people say they care, but they really don’t,” she said.

“Because if someone wanted to get this done, they could do it. They’re just choosing not to do it.”

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