Regina organization helping connect newcomers with COVID-19 vaccines

Immigrating can be a difficult experience in the best of times, but making the transition during a global pandemic adds another layer to the challenge.

"It wasn’t easy," Rima Nasser, who immigrated to Canada this year, said through an interpreter. "If you want to move from one area to a house in another, it's difficult, so moving from a continent into another continent is even harder because different culture, different language."

Rima and Abdullah Nasser came to Saskatchewan from Turkey in February and have been diligent in following the public health orders since arriving in the country.

Rima and Abdullah Nasser, who immigrated to Canada in February, received the COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic hosted by the Regina Open Door Society. (Marc Smith/CTV News)

Now with the province’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout underway, the couple leaned on the Regina Open Door Society (RODS) to help them navigate getting the shot.

"We liked the idea of taking the vaccination through Open Door because they provided an interpreter and the presence of the interpreter made us feel secure and safe because they know all the information and what's going on," Abdullah Nasser said through an interpreter.

RODS worked with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) to set up a mobile vaccination clinic at their facility last month.

With information about vaccines and clinics, the goal that the SHA had in partnering with RODS and the Regina Immigrant Women’s Centre was to provide access and information to the newcomers about the vaccine.

"We wanted to provide that information just to clear up any questions," Victoria Flores, communications manager with RODS, said.

The SHA is working to get as many residents vaccinated as possible, including new arrivals to the country. The partnership made the process easier and helped increase uptake in that population.

"What we heard was that people were overwhelmed," Tracy Sanden, liaison officer with the SHA’s Integrated Health Incident Command Centre in Regina, said.

"When English isn't your first language, trying to navigate a drive thru, if you had a vehicle, or trying to navigate an online booking system, or even just going to a large mass centre like [the International Trade] Center, where you might have to ask for instructions and you don't even know how to ask for instructions was overwhelming."

Interpreters were provided and presentations were given on vaccine hesitancy and the importance of receiving the shot.

"They just want to hear from a consistent source and go to a place that was familiar to them with people that were familiar to them to gain the vaccine and access to the vaccine," Shain Thakarar, physician co-lead with the SHA’s IHICC in Regina, said.

Abdullah Nasser said it would have been much more challenging for them to receive the vaccine without the help provided through the clinic at RODS.

"We don't know how to book an appointment, how to like to take the cab or to take a bus in order to go to the location, so the presence of Open Door was really essential," Abdullah Nasser said.

He said they were relieved after getting the shot.

"It was very smooth, it was so easy, and the people there, the nurses, were very nice. They gave explanations about what's going to happen and about the side effects of the vaccination," Nasser said.

There were 242 people immunized through the clinic at RODS and the organization is working with the SHA to set up more clinics moving forward. They are also working with newcomers to book appointments through pharmacies and the SHA.

"We've also connected with the school vaccine program, so they have workers that go into schools, they have the school schedule, they can talk to the families, and we have some family clinics that can help bring in the parents with the children," Sanden said.

"If they have questions or need clarifications that they're hearing from their community, we get the information out to them."

The SHA said ensuring this population has access to the vaccine is massive.

"We really need to be able to offer access vaccine to everyone in the population and that includes the these populations that we reached out to," Thakarar said.

"The volunteers and leaders of these organizations were instrumental to allowing this to happen, being able to represent them, their clients, their needs, and bring that back to us."