Nonprofits are a key partner in an effective and equitable COVID-19 vaccination rollout
By: Pamela Uppal, Policy Advisor, Ontario Nonprofit Network
The role of nonprofits in the vaccine rollout
As the pandemic took hold of our communities last Spring, Ontario’s nonprofits and charities rolled up our sleeves and got to work. We are not only serving many communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic – women, Indigenous peoples, Black and other racialized people, low-income families and individuals, young people, seniors, and newcomers to Canada – but also many nonprofit frontline workers are essential workers in vital services across the province.
Our work as a sector continues. As all levels of government develop and implement robust vaccination rollout plans, nonprofits and their workers and volunteers can play further roles:
- Nonprofits are a credible source of information and communication channels to promote vaccine confidence (e.g., public education campaigns adapted in various languages and in culturally competent ways).
- Nonprofit spaces can function as community vaccination hubs. Nonprofit infrastructure spans rural, northern, and urban regions, reaching people where they are and includes faith spaces, recreation centres, multi-service buildings, and community hubs.
- Nonprofits continue to provide essential services to vulnerable populations. Approximately one-third of nonprofits have stayed open during pandemic-related shutdowns. Workers and volunteers at these locations should be protected and prioritized for vaccination, alongside communities nonprofits are serving.
Supporting vaccination rollout
Nonprofits are well-positioned to support public education on vaccine confidence, especially Black-led, Indigenous-led, Ethno-specific, immigrant-serving, senior-serving, people with disabilities-serving and women’s organizations, community health centres, community housing and grassroots community groups. These organizations work alongside hard-to-reach populations, as well as those that have historically been discriminated against when accessing and receiving healthcare. They are trusted leaders in communities and have strong networks and infrastructure to promote public education that is evidence-based, multilingual, and culturally competent so that no one is left behind.
We don’t need to look far for successful examples. A recent partnership between Toronto Public Health, Ontario Health Teams in Toronto, WoodGreen Community Services and Jack Layton Seniors Community Housing highlighted the importance of “piggybacking” on trusted relationships with nonprofits. By using nonprofit sites to bring vaccines to vulnerable populations, organizations can provide the space for communities to ask questions and make an informed decision.
Prioritizing nonprofit housing and essential workers
According to the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, there are key population groups that should be prioritized for vaccination: those most likely to transmit COVID-19 to those at high risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19; workers essential to maintaining the COVID-19 response; those contributing to the maintenance of other essential services for the functioning of society; and those whose living or working conditions put them at elevated risk of infection and where infection could have disproportionate consequences, including Indigenous communities.
Many nonprofit housing workers and residents certainly fit into these categories. Despite best efforts, there are always going to be challenges in physical distancing and other infection prevention and control measures while individuals cannot adequately protect themselves from infection. There is often overlap between groups of people using various essential nonprofit services, including shelters, food banks, and drop-ins. This further increases risk of COVID-19 transmission and outbreaks in already strained settings.
It is also well documented that Black, Indigenous, and other racialized communities, people with disabilities, migrant workers, and low-income individuals and families, have been and continue to be disproportionately at risk of COVID-19 infection and harm. This is based not only on where they work and live, but also on historical and current barriers in accessing and receiving healthcare.
ONN and other nonprofits have called on the Ontario government, Ontario Health Teams and regional Public Health Units to collaborate with local nonprofits and clarify eligibility of workers for phase two vaccination.
We have heard from nonprofits about regional discrepancies in vaccination rollout, the increasing number of outbreaks in group homes and shelters, especially with the variants, and the difficulties in containing COVID-19 in already strained settings, along with barriers for clients to use an online vaccination booking system for those without access to technology.
One of the challenges was lack of clarity around which nonprofit frontline workers were part of phase two vaccination. Who would be considered a “frontline worker” and what are “other populations and communities facing barriers”? This confusion was further compounded when local Public Health Units implementing vaccination rollout could interpret “frontline worker” differently.
We are pleased to see that eligibility for phase two has now been updated. Social services staff providing in-person client services have now been explicitly named as part of the priority group, along with other essential workers and volunteers. We encourage nonprofit employers to provide paid time for vaccination and testing where possible. While a cited best practice is three hours, we will be collecting policies and approaches from the sector.
Moving forward: Learning, mobilizing, and taking action
Nonprofit housing providers play an important role in an effective and equitable vaccination rollout. As organizations grounded in communities and trusted information sources, nonprofit housing organizations can help advance vaccine confidence. This can be done by sharing nonprofit resources already developed, and/or working alongside health care specialists to develop culturally relevant and linguistic materials for workers, volunteers, and the communities they serve. Check out ONN’s COVID-19 vaccination page for a list of helpful resources by the sector and for communities we serve.
Is your organization interested in acting as a vaccination hub? Many nonprofits, such as YMCAs, Bramalea Community Health Centre, and Wabano Centre for Indigenous Health, are serving as vaccination sites, working with their local Public Health Unit and/or Ontario Health Team. Vaccinations are also going mobile in various parts of the province, and congregate settings would be ideal to offer onsite vaccinations. The Ministry of Health has noted that a majority of congregate living settings would benefit from mobile/onsite clinics. Here’s more on planning from the Ontario Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic Operations Planning Checklist.
Nonprofit employers and vaccination policies
ONN will also be collecting resources for nonprofits as employers, to support vaccination requirements for workers. Get updates as we release them.
The nonprofit sector has played a vital role in the pandemic response, and there is still work to do. We encourage organizations to learn from nonprofit work that has already been done in the sector, amplify existing efforts, and advocate alongside collectively. Together, we can help provide a vaccination rollout that is both accessible and equitable.
This post was authored by the Ontario Nonprofit Network as part of ONPHA’s blog takeover series. Learn more about blog takeovers and how you can participate.
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