Vaccinating the Gaspé one phone call at a time

By Ruby Irene Pratka – Local Journalism Initiative

Millions of Quebecers with easy internet access and a short car or bus ride to a vaccination centre were able to reserve vaccine appointments on the ClicSanté portal and arrive at their appointments without a second thought.

However, in rural areas in the Gaspé region, in the northeastern part of the province, it hasn’t always been that easy. Authorities in the Gaspé, like those in Brome-Missisquoi, had to reach out to residents living in far-flung rural communities, who didn’t always have reliable internet access.

“Our large territory was a challenge, and we also had a human resource challenge, like every health region,” says Lou Landry, spokesperson for the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux (CISSS) de la Gaspésie. The region also reckoned with weather that sometimes kept both vaccinators and recipients from vaccination centres. Despite these obstacles, the region has managed to get two doses to 86 per cent of people five and older.

Officials at the CISSS de la Gaspésie give much of the credit for their success to a personalized approach that is attracting attention around the province.

“After we gave the first dose to some people, we called them back to suggest times for their second dose. We’ve also done some personal calls to book the third shot, especially for seniors,” says Landry. The region set up a dedicated phone line to respond to questions about vaccination and allow people without internet access to book appointments without having to brave the long wait times of the provincewide line. During the summer, mobile vaccination vans visited the smallest villages, and stopped at popular beaches so young people could get the shots. Outreach teams with bilingual members served the region’s many bilingual municipalities. Those who were unable to make it to a vaccination centre could book a home visit for vaccination. Anti-poverty activists from around the province have called for door-to-door vaccinations; Landry says that although that wasn’t logistically possible in the Gaspé, the CISSS outreach teams did the next best thing: “We couldn’t do door-to-door vaccinations, because we don’t have the staff to vaccinate 30,000 people in their homes…but the van helped us get to rural communities of 100 people, and then they could [more easily] come to us. It really made a difference.” Fire stations and community halls became one-day vaccination centres. Although the CISSS could not provide statistics on how many vaccines were given through home visits and pop-up vaccination centres in fire halls or on beaches, Landry says mobile teams “really made a difference.”

The CIUSSS de l’Estrie has adopted some elements of this approach. Marie-Ève Nadeau, spokesperson for the CIUSSS de l’Estrie, says home visits in this region are currently available for people with reduced mobility, and mobile teams have been deployed to set up single-day clinics “in areas where the vaccination rate is lower,” working with local communities to determine times and locations.

Johanne Méthot is the assistant director general of care and the director of vaccination for the CISSS de la Gaspésie. “Everybody was working in the same way. Clinic teams, public health, communications, human resources team, hygiene team and so on. From this experience, we learned that it pays off to be close to people, and to be available,” she says.

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