To help reduce the number of COVID-19 cases and effectively address the issues around vaccine trust and confidence within Black communities, the City has partnered with community agencies to provide COVID-19 health and safety awareness in Black communities and work with experts to prepare for and support immunization.
The work with experts includes the development of the Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity, with the overarching goal of reducing the immediate risk of disease transmission and hospitalization. This task force is being jointly supported by the City and TAIBU Community Health Centre, a trusted community partner with a mandate for Black health across Toronto. Toronto Public Health is also supporting the initiative along with many of Canada’s top Black scientists involved in key aspects of vaccine development and public health. Together they will review the major concerns around COVID-19 testing and levels of vaccine acceptance and develop public health recommendations to effectively address this within the Black community. The task force is scheduled to present a final report of its findings and recommendations to the City by April 30, 2021.
Members of the task force include:
- Dr. Akwatu Khenti, an expert in anti-Black racism, Black mental health and the adaptation of mainstream health interventions to African and Caribbean cultures; chair of the Task Force
- Dr. Candice Todd, a naturopathic doctor with expertise in health promotion and disease prevention
- Celina Caesar-Chavannes, an expert in clinical trials and the issues of racial representation in clinical trials
- Dr. David Burt, an immunologist with a background in vaccine testing and product development
- Francis Jeffers, an expert in vaccine quality control and issues related to Black community members and STEM
- Dr. Isaac Odame, a physician and expert on sickle cell disease and Black historic experiences with neglected diseases
- Dr. Kwame McKenzie, a psychiatrist specializing in Black mental health and health equity policy
- Dr. Upton Allen, an infectious disease expert and lead investigator on COVID at Sick Kids Hospital
- Nicole Welch, a nursing and public health leader with Toronto Public Health
- Trevor Aldridge, with expertise in regulatory aspects of vaccine approvals and areas of quality compliance and regulatory affairs
- Dr. Zainab Abdurrahman, an expert in vaccine allergies and adverse reactions
- Dr. Michael Finkelstein, Associate Medical Officer of Health, Toronto Public Health and Chair of the City’s Immunization Task Force
- Dr. Na-Koshie Lamptey, Deputy Medical Officer of Health, Toronto Public Health
The task force, in conjunction with several community organizations--including the Black Health Alliance (BHA), the Canadian Multicultural Inventors Museum and Harriet Tubman Institute, Women’s Health in Women’s Hands and TAIBU--will co-host a series of free virtual town hall meetings for Toronto’s Black communities during Black History Month and into March, starting February 13. The first town hall will focus on the historical and contemporary issues of trustworthiness vis-à-vis vaccines and medical science that give Black people cause for concern. Other town hall sessions will focus on answering how vaccines work; misinformation and conspiracy theories; mental health problems and consequences of COVID-19; and Black health professional risks and resiliencies.
Details about the task force’s work, the virtual sessions and how to participate can be found on the City’s COVID-19: City Immunization Task Force page: https://www.toronto.ca/home/covid-19/covid-19-protect-yourself-others/covid-19-vaccines/covid-19-city-immunization-program/.
More information about the Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity can be found in a backgrounder on the City’s website at: https://contrib.wp.intra.prod-toronto.ca/news/black-scientists-task-force-on-vaccine-equity/
Through the Black Community COVID Response Plan, the City is also leveraging the expertise and talents of agencies that are Black-led and serving to increase wrap-around supports to help Black individuals and families stay well physically, mentally and emotionally through the pandemic.
To carry out this work, the City has invested $6.8 million in funding and partnered with 12 community agencies to provide targeted outreach and supports to the top 10 neighbourhoods with a high percentage of Black Torontonians and highest COVID-19 case rate. These supports include increases in culturally-responsive mental health supports, food access provisions for Black-mandated organizations, mobile and community-based testing, mobile services to support seniors and people with disabilities (such as food delivery or wellness checks); a commitment to continue to advocating for income support and housing security; and coordinate health policies, programs and provisions targeted to Black communities.
For example, the Black Health Alliance is leading grassroots communication efforts around COVID-19 health and safety awareness campaign and the City has also partnered with other Black-led and Black-serving agencies (such as Delta, Black Creek Health Centre, Rexdale Community Health Centre, and Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Organization) to implement some social service and culturally-responsive mental health supports through door knocking wellness checks and WhatsApp messages.
This plan and the work being carried out by the community partners is supplemental to the work for which funds were allocated through the TO Supports Fund for Black-led and Black serving community agencies. Through the fund, approximately 37 Black agencies serving Black Torontonians were allocated approximately $3.6 million for food access programs, mental health supports and social connections to provide support to Black residents during the response to the pandemic.
The TO Supports Investment Fund was created to invest in strategic partnerships with social services agencies to address urgent needs of vulnerable Toronto residents. The funds are not intended to meet long-term recovery needs.
"Throughout the pandemic, it has been clear that COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted certain communities in our city including Black residents. A targeted approach was necessary to not only ensure that those who need support are receiving it but to further stop the spread of the virus. The work that we are doing on the ground with our partner agencies will address the systemic barriers many of our residents were facing when accessing supports and services. I want to thank all of our partners and the experts working with us to help us better understand what the concerns in the Black community are around COVID-19 and vaccine hesitancy. I look forward to receiving the report from the Black Scientists Task Force on Vaccine Equity and working with our many partners to alleviate those concerns.”
- Mayor John Tory
"The pandemic has been tough on everyone, but it has disproportionately affected the health and well-being of some of Toronto’s communities. The City’s Black Community COVID Response Plan is built on a partnership with well-known and established community agencies to ensure that the immunization concerns of residents in Black communities are addressed, and that they have access to the same essential social supports and health and safety information as other communities.”
- Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson (Scarborough Centre), Chair of the Economic and Community Development Committee
“To beat COVID, we must address pre-existing inequities that this pandemic has laid bare. Public health data has clearly shown that systemic inequities, including anti-Black racism and discrimination, have resulted in the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black communities in our city. I want to recognize and thank the leaders in Toronto's Black communities who have been on the frontlines of this work, and who are now partnering with City staff to develop public health recommendations that are tailored to the unique needs and concerns of Toronto's Black communities. The partnerships and learnings from the Black Community COVID Response Plan are not only key to fighting this pandemic and protecting residents, but also to guiding our ongoing work addressing the impacts of the social determinants of health in our city.”
- Councillor Joe Cressy (Spadina-Fort York), Board of Health Chair
“TAIBU is honored to support the work of the Black Scientists Task Force on Vaccine Equity. We continue to engage with the City of Toronto in supporting initiatives that address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the Black communities ranging from enhancing community testing, providing outreach and practical support and now education and awareness about COVID-19 vaccination. Establishing community trust and confidence is foundational to addressing the impact of anti-Black racism.”
- Liben Gebremikael, Executive Director, TAIBU Community Health Centre
"There is much work that still needs to be done to make sure that Black communities in Toronto are protected from harmful effects of COVID-19. Our partnership with the City of Toronto through the TO Supports: COVID-19 Equity Action Plan and the Black Community COVID Response Plan will better support much needed targeted outreach and health promotion efforts tailored to the unique needs, and lived realities of Black residents in Toronto. In addition to ongoing efforts focused on the systemic changes that are needed, we believe that this is a crucial component that will help reduce the COVID related health inequities facing Black residents in Toronto."
- Paul Bailey, Executive Director, Black Health Alliance
“The Rexdale Community Health Centre, with the support of the City of Toronto and Ontario Health, is offering COVID-19 Mobile Testing Clinics and wrap around services and supports to the residents of North Etobicoke. Our Peer Ambassadors and Case Workers live in this community and reflect its diversity. They understand the challenges individuals and families face and unique supports each client needs after testing positive for COVID-19.”
- Safia Ahmed, Executive Director, Rexdale Community Health Centre
“Delta Family Resource Centre is working with a number of other partner agencies in northwest Toronto to ensure that supports are provided to residents impacted by COVID - who are disproportionately from Black and other racialized communities. The City's Targeted Equity Action Plan has allowed Delta Family and our partners to continue to provide invaluable supports to residents during these uncertain times; the food, COVID testing, connections to social supports, referrals to partners who assist with housing and domestic violence accessed by residents help to sustain them physically and emotionally at this time, and many agencies are working with community animators increase access to COVID information and support.”
- Kemi Jacobs, Executive Director, Delta Family Resource Centre
“Thanks to funding through the City of Toronto’s Equity Action Plan, Black Creek CHC is now reaching many more community residents to offer supports during the continuing COVID crisis in this hard-hit area of the city. Through a COVID support line, we provide quick access to information about where to get testing, how to apply for income supports, or where to seek help with family or mental health issues, among other things. Outreach workers and Community Ambassadors that represent the ethno-cultural diversity of Northwest Toronto, were hired to expand our ability to offer much needed wrap-around supports and case-management to those directly impacted by COVID-19.”
- Cheryl Prescod, Executive Director, Black Creek Community Health Centre