A vaccine blitz on Fourth Avenue

By Nili Kaplan-Myrth

It was truly the most meaningful way to spend a Saturday – a six-hour “Jabapalooza” on Fourth Avenue that saw more than 200 people get their first jab of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Throughout the pandemic, my medical colleagues and I have advocated strongly for family doctors to be involved in vaccine planning and rollout. Provincial restrictions and regional disparities meant that it was not until April 9 that primary care providers in Ottawa were finally able to access vaccines to administer to our patients.

In six days, from April 19 to 24, our little Common Ground Glebe clinic on Fourth Avenue was able to put our “ready to vaccinate” assertion into action. In the days leading up to Jabapalooza, as one of my patients dubbed it, I reached out on social media to invite Ottawans age 40 and older to register for the AstraZeneca vaccine. My husband, my medical administrator and I worked from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. for a week to ensure that we booked our patients and also responded to a flood of teachers, early childhood educators, daycare providers, bus drivers, truck drivers, social workers, grocers, construction workers and others who responded to our invitation to register for the vaccine. From Monday through Friday, we immunized 220 people, including NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and MPP Joel Harden. We then asked Ottawa Public Health for another batch of vaccines that we put into the arms of 220 more people between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday.

When we threw open our doors on Saturday to transform the office into the site of this very special community-based immunization event, we were thinking outside the box, relying on the kindness of volunteers. Councillors Shawn Menard and Catherine McKenny helped us to block off Fourth Avenue from Bank Street to Lyon Street so that we could put out the chairs that were loaned to us by Octopus Books and by neighbours along the street. The chairs allowed people to sit down to rest for the required 15 minutes after their shot.

Our daughter and a medical student walked up and down the block to explain the event to each household. We drew lines in chalk on the ground to ensure people would stay properly distanced as they waited their turn to enter the clinic. Friends organized a roster of volunteers to assist with traffic at each end of the block. A team of seven medical students screened everyone as they arrived, helped them to ensure their consent forms were complete and answered their questions. Then our son crossed their names off the registration list and our daughter waved people inside, one by one. A patient who is also a neighbour brought home-baked cookies and sandwiches from Nicastro to feed to the medical student volunteers.

The event was documented by local and national news media, as well as by a photographer and writer from Macleans. Every story, every person’s reason for struggling to access the COVID-19 vaccine was compelling. A less visible part of Jabapalooza, but equally important, were visits we made to the homes of people with disabilities who could not come to the office – most had tried unsuccessfully for weeks through public health to get mobile teams to come to them.

The sun shone and music played on our stereo. There was a tiny hint of normalcy, reminiscent of the Great Glebe Garage Sale, but with a distinctly pandemic flair. We all felt warmth, happiness, a lightness that we haven’t felt since the pandemic began. It was a success for the Glebe and it was a success for Ottawans. I admit that I lay awake the night before Jabapalooza, terrified that we would let down everyone who was scheduled to come to the office for their vaccine. But nothing went awry. Everyone arrived on Saturday to get their jab of hope and everyone left with smiles under their masks.

I’ve approached Ottawa Public Health to propose that we hold another community-based immunization day, perhaps at the Glebe Community Centre. Every volunteer from last week put up their hand to do this again and more volunteers have stepped forward. We can do this, together.

Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, MD, CCFP, Ph.D., is a family doctor and anthropologist. She co-hosts a podcast, RxAdvocacy.ca, and is co-editing a book about the pandemic. You are invited to submit stories about your experiences of the pandemic for this collaborative book, Breaking Canadians. For more information, write to breakingcanadians@gmail.com.

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