Toronto's Accessibility Task Force on COVID-19 Vaccines to address equity gaps in vaccine access for people with disabilities

Today, Mayor John Tory announced the formation of Toronto’s Accessibility Task Force (ATF) on COVID-19 Vaccines to advise on enhanced support and access to the COVID-19 vaccine for people with disabilities. The ATF was created as part of the City of Toronto’s COVID-19 Immunization Task Force (ITF) outreach efforts and TO Supports: Targeted Equity Action Plan and is a collaboration between the City and community partners. Given the high risks associated with COVID-19 for people with disabilities, the ATF is set to make recommendations to immediately reduce the number of COVID-19 cases and effectively address issues around accessibility.

The ATF builds on the City’s work to support access to vaccines for persons with disabilities through a $125,000 grant to the Centre for Independent Living in Toronto, which was announced on March 31.

Task Force members include Wendy Porch, Executive Director, Centre for Independent Living in Toronto (CILT) as task force Chair, and experts from Ontario Health Teams, CAMH, Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, North Yorkers for Disabled People, PACE, Reena, Safehaven Project for Community Living, Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, Surrey Place, Unity Health Toronto and Vibrant Healthcare Alliance.

The ATF met in late March and outlined their objectives:

  • to make recommendations to effectively close equity gaps in current vaccine planning and increase vaccination rates among people with disabilities and their caregivers
  • to share knowledge about COVID-19 infection risks and measures that reduce risks, and enhance testing and safety practices across disability communities
  • to identify, review and address concerns with COVID-19 vaccines and barriers to accessing the vaccine
The ATF has made two initial recommendations: to immediately prioritize people with disabilities who rely on daily service provision or who reside in congregate care settings in the vaccine roll-out; and that the City’s vaccine roll-out partners work with supportive housing and developmental service providers to immediately establish priority days for client vaccine bookings, identify mobile/outreach teams and provide vaccines directly to qualified agencies.

In response to the recommendations, quick action was taken by Toronto Public Health to register clients for immunization in cooperation with task force member agencies, with plans to establish such processes and systems in all areas of the city.

The task force may expand its membership to ensure all disabilities are represented to help the City effectively respond to the unique needs and vulnerabilities of disability communities. Public virtual town halls are being planned for late April or early May.

More information about Toronto’s Accessibility Task Force on COVID-19 Vaccines is available in the Backgrounder: Toronto’s Accessibility Task Force on COVID-19 Vaccines.

Quotes:

“It’s our job at the City to ensure everyone has the opportunity to be vaccinated as soon as possible. In a city as large and diverse as Toronto, we rely on community partners that have valuable insights and relationships with the residents they serve. This newly formed task force of experts, and the disability community as a whole, have my commitment that the City will work quickly to remove any barriers to vaccination that stand in their way.” – Toronto Mayor John Tory

“The Accessibility Task Force is a part of our work to communicate and engage directly with the residents and communities most affected by the pandemic. This health crisis has highlighted the systemic inequities that persist in our city, but also the commitment and dedication of our advocates and community partners to work together to tackle these inequities, including barriers to vaccination. That vision and collaboration is evident in this task force, which will work quickly to improve vaccine access and information to protect the lives of the disability community.”

– Councillor Joe Cressy (Spadina-Fort York), Chair of the Toronto Board of Health

“Every day I see the great need – and the progress made – on initiatives that support the elimination of barriers faced by people with disabilities. Community-based collaboration is absolutely essential to improving accessibility in this city and never more important than when we’re facing a health crisis such as COVID-19. I’m pleased to see the formation of Toronto’s Accessibility Task Force on COVID-19 Vaccines, and support their vital efforts to protect the health of people with disabilities through improved processes and systems.”

– Kristyn Wong-Tam, Councillor (City Central), Chair, Toronto Accessibility Advisory Committee

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen people with disabilities left further behind. In the context of rising case counts and a triage protocol that would see people with disabilities deprioritized for life-saving treatment, it is critical that people with disabilities are vaccinated as soon as possible and in a context that meets their accessibility needs. This task force is taking urgent steps to protect the health of people with disabilities through improving access to the COVID-19 vaccine. It is an important initiative that, even at this early stage, is generating concrete results, and we expect it to lead to improved and integrated systems for our community across the board.”

– Wendy Porch, Executive Director, Centre for Independent Living in Toronto (CILT)

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