The COVID-19 vaccination gap between Hamilton neighborhoods is wide with more than four times the number of young people boosted in the western part of the city than in the east.
Even in the most vaccinated neighborhood, fewer than 26 percent of 12- to 15-year-olds had taken three shots as of May 8 in the Forward Screening District (FSA) L8P, which stretches from James Street South to Interstate 403 and from King Street West to the Algarve.
Compared to a low of about six percent on L8H, which runs roughly from Ottawa Street north to Nash Road north and from Queenston Road to Lake Ontario.
The gap was even greater for 16-17 year olds, with 45 percent boosting in the L8S neighborhoods west of Hamilton in Westdale and Ainslie Wood.
That’s more than six times the seven percent with three doses in L8H, data from ICES Ontario Research Institute shows.
“COVID-19 has never been an equal opportunity virus,” said Dr. Amit Arya, assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at McMaster University. “The entire pandemic is driven by social and economic issues.”
Other FSAs that were boosted by more than 20 percent of 12- to 15-year-olds were in richer areas of Dundas (L9H), Ancaster (L9G) and West Hamilton (L8S).
FSAs with less than eight percent youth three-shots include the L8L and L8R that run from Ottawa Street north to Interstate 403 and from King Street to Lake Ontario. Also in this group is the L8E at the bottom of Stoney Creek. When L8H is added, it sweeps across almost the entire north side of the Lower Town.
“The way out of the epidemic or the way to control it is by addressing social inequalities,” Arya said.
The gap is large because three doses are required to better protect against severe disease from Omicron and its subvariants.
Time is running out for a program intended to help close the gap because Public Health only has four more months of funding for the nine vaccine ambassadors.
The community outreach program launched in the spring of 2021 and received $994,393 in county funds provided by the city’s emergency operations center. The money ran out at the end of September when the program is due to end. Young people are a major priority in outreach.
Jennifer Vickers-Manzen, director and nursing officer for the Healthy Families Division, said in a statement that ambassadors are “working hard to reach priority populations that face additional barriers to vaccination.” “This includes focusing on young people and their families, to build trust, help fill gaps in vaccine information, remove barriers to access, increase confidence in the vaccine, and ultimately increase uptake in city areas or among particularly vulnerable populations.”
Their work has included locating accessible clinics, leading outreach efforts at community and cultural events, providing information sessions for families of new arrivals and escorting those facing language or other barriers to obtaining vaccination. Collectively, they speak 17 languages. While the results of their work are difficult to determine, they did help 535 Hamiltonians book appointments during the Omicron wave alone, which is a fraction of the vaccinations they would help boost.
“Vaccine Ambassadors have made great strides and played a vital role in increasing coronavirus immunization rates across Hamilton,” said Vickers-Manzen. “We are making a concerted effort so that everyone who wants a COVID-19 vaccine can continue to have access to the vaccine in a place that is convenient for them and remove barriers.”
Despite this work, the launch has stalled for weeks with only 58 percent of adults in Hamilton boosted as of June 1 and 16 percent of young adults aged 12-17.
“This is certainly very concerning and I think it came again from this rhetoric that COVID-19 is over or it’s not serious now…None of that is actually based on any science or fact,” Arya said. “We are definitely not out of the woods yet. We know that a new Omicron variant or even a completely new variant can completely change the situation…and this is still important to prepare for any future waves.”
So far, Public Health is not looking to extend funding for vaccine ambassadors.
“I don’t think we should end any funding for vaccination,” Arya said. “I think it’s too early at this point in time…it’s really time to plan for the downfall or any future wave.”