A look inside Toronto's least vaccinated neighbourhood and what's being done to change it

Nadjib Alamyar and the team at Woodgreen Community Services have spent hours knocking door-to-door in Toronto's Taylor-Massey neighbourhood working to engage with their community and increase vaccine uptake.

According to city data, the Taylor-Massey area, comprised of Crescent Town and Oakridge neighbourhoods, has among the lowest rates of vaccination in Toronto.

“We work around the clock and all our partners really work around the clock too,” Alamyar told CTV News Toronto on Wednesday.

In July, the city issued a statement on Taylor-Massey’s low vaccine uptake, noting that only 60 per cent of residents had received their first dose and that 48 per cent were fully vaccinated.

To address that, the city said it would increase resources and vaccine efforts in the area. The effort, dubbed the ‘Home Stretch Campaign​,’ ran throughout late summer and focused on increasing vaccination uptake in  M4B and M4C postal codes, including introducing nine micro-targeted pop-up clinics in locations such as grocery stores, schools and public squares and conducting 20,000 “geographically targeted telephone voice broadcasts.”

In the months following the increased effort, Taylor-Massey has seen an uptick in completed vaccinations.

As of the week of Oct. 9, 62 per cent of eligible Taylor-Massey residents have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and are considered to be fully vaccinated, a 14 per cent increase since the city's July statement.

While the number of fully vaccinated residents has increased significantly, the area still lags far behind the rest of the city's vaccination statss of Wednesday, 82 per cent of eligible Toronto residents have completed their COVID-19 vaccinations.

To assist in increasing local vaccine uptake, Toronto Public Health (TPH) says it is “actively engaging with residents in Taylor-Massey.”

“While [community health teams] report ongoing vaccine hesitancy among some residents, they continue to build trust with the community to move people closer to vaccine confidence,” a TPH spokesperson told CTV News Toronto.

“Compared to the rest of the city, Taylor Massey has a higher proportion of people living in high-rise apartments. Taylor Massey also has a higher proportion of people who use public transportation as their primary mode of commuting. These are both factors that could contribute to lower vaccine access.”

The team at Woodgreen echoed these statements. To tackle barriers like a greater proportion of residents living in apartment buildings, Alamyar and his team began conducting vaccine clinics in the lobbies of those buildings.

“We also provide information in multiple languages to meet the needs of newcomers,” he said.

When reached for comment, City Councillor for Ward 19, Beaches-East York, Brad Bradford told CTV News Toronto that he was “aware” that vaccination rates in Taylor-Massey are behind other parts of Toronto.

“We’ve been taking extraordinary steps to get vaccine information out to residents in these areas,” Bradford said.

“We’ve done targeted advertising, extensive pushes through all of the community and social services agencies, libraries, community centres and other resources that are connected in through our Neighbourhood Improvement Area programs.”

Although, “at some point,” Bradford said, “we have to accept that some of the low rates must be connected to vaccine hesitancy.”

“The information is definitely getting out there and people are still making the choice not to get vaccinated. While I support people’s right to choose, I am concerned about whether people are getting the right information in a format they understand.”

Bradford says that “certainly, armed with all the facts, more folks ought to be choosing to get vaccinated,” adding that he thinks mandatory vaccine requirements set out by businesses and employers will help to increase uptake in his ward.

Alamyar, however, says that his team hasn’t encountered significant hesitancy towards vaccinations.

“We haven't really run into vaccine hesitancy ... Most of the time, when we do outreach, we receive positive feedback from residents,” he said.

Instead, he says residents are hesitant not towards the vaccines, but more often, the government and the messaging put forward by the government throughout the pandemic.

“It's generally a lack of trust in the government and the way government has been messaging,” Alamyar said. “Our team really tries to respond to that by giving [the community] tools and resources to make sure they can make their own decision.”

Reasoning aside, the efforts to increase uptake are continuing, says Bradford.

“Just last weekend the city's VAXX25 campaign saw at least one pop-up in every city ward, including multiple serving Taylor-Massey,” he said.

“We've also had multiple pop-up clinics in subway stations to reduce every possible barrier to getting a vaccine.”

Alaymar says that his team will continue to work diligently to provide resources and information to their community, but that he also hopes vaccine mandates will help increase uptake in Taylor-Massey.

“My hope would be more regulations and more government mandates for vaccines,” he said. "I can't think of anything else we could do that we haven't done."

“I'm a strong believer that most people are open to the idea — they just might need some time or more information to just to get them there.”