Toronto vaccine clinics report harassment from people ineligible for second doses


Several COVID-19 vaccine clinics in Toronto are asking residents to wait their turn for a second shot, saying staff have been harassed by people demanding to be fully vaccinated despite not being eligible.

The province recently announced it was shortening the interval between vaccine doses, starting with those aged 80 and older this week. Second shots are also currently offered to those with certain health conditions, high-risk healthcare workers and Indigenous communities.

Family and emergency physician Dr. Lisa Salamon-Switzman said vaccinations clinics set up by Scarborough Health Network have seen several instances of individuals pushing for second shots despite not meeting the criteria .

“People who weren’t eligible were really pressuring a lot of our staff to do it, particularly at pop-ups, which were really meant for first doses and really trying to get to hard to reach areas,” said Salamon-Switzman, who has been helping with the east Toronto hospital network’s vaccine effort.

“All of us had advocated very strongly for an equitable approach to the vaccine rollout in Scarborough, where we have been hit really hard by COVID.”

Things got “quite dramatic” at clinics that started offering shots to children aged 12 to 17 recently, with parents demanding second doses while their kids got their first shots, Salamon-Switzman said.

“It would be nice if everyone works collaboratively,” she said. “Just wait your turn.”

The Humber River Hospital said its staff had similar experiences at recent vaccine clinics.

“It’s been a long week of verbal harassment and other abusive behaviour from people trying to bully their way into getting second doses. This is not OK,” it wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

“Please, consider those who are working tirelessly at our clinic and clinics across Ontario.”

A community centre in Toronto’s downtown Kensington-Chinatown area said it also saw many ineligible residents vying for a second shot during a pop-up clinic last week.

“You can see these people asking questions and getting angry and belligerent when they’re not getting the response they want,” said  Danny Anckle, executive director of the Cecil Community Centre.

Volunteers at the clinic reported feeling bullied, Anckle said, explaining that the pop-up was targeting local residents who include people of colour, low-income individuals and those who can’t easily access a vaccine site.

“Every now and again a fancy car would come and drop off somebody … It’s clear they weren’t the people that live around here,” said Anckle.

The province has said those aged 70 and older will be eligible for second doses in mid-June, and after that, residents will become eligible for second doses based on when they received their first shot.

Residents will keep their original second-dose appointments – four months from the first – if they don’t book an earlier shot.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Denise Paglinawan, The Canadian Press