In some Toronto neighbourhoods, the percentage of the population 18 and up that’s had at least one dose of the COVID vaccine is approaching 70 per cent, while in others it’s as low as about 35 per cent, according to city data.
Affluent Etobicoke neighbourhood Kingsway South leads the pack at 66.6 per cent, with Kensington-Chinatown last, at only 34.8 per cent.
The data also shows that vaccination rates seem to be improving in the areas hardest hit by the virus, where they started off low.
“I was so surprised to see the data, then I thought about it, and it’s actually not that surprising,” said Quynh Pham, an assistant professor with the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
The residents of Kingsway South — an area lined with large stone homes and lush greenery — are more likely to be retired, or able to work from home, granting them the opportunity to seek jabs at whatever locations are available to them despite long lines or long drives, Pham said.
Kensington-Chinatown, in the downtown core, has a large percentage of ethnocultural minorities, many of them Asian Canadians, who may be hindered from vaccination opportunities by language barriers even if they qualify based on age, she added.
At the same time, several neighbourhoods targeted under the provincial hotspot strategy to allocate half of the vaccine supply towards those at highest risk (by the first three letters of postal codes) now have rates higher than the city average of about 54 per cent, including Cliffcrest in Scarborough and Cabbagetown-South St. James Town.
Others, such as Black Creek (53.7) and Rexdale-Kipling (51.8), are approaching it.
Pham said if there’s a “pocket” in the city where people are not getting shots, “then resources should be reallocated to support whatever needs to be done for those communities to get vaccinated.”
That may include better communication, going door to door, holding more pop-ups or increasing the number of accessible sites for people to get shots on their lunch breaks, Pham added.
Based on COVID transmission rates, and structural and social factors, “the neighbourhood of Kensington-Chinatown definitely seems to justify prioritization for vaccine supply,” said Dr. Andrew Boozary, a physician and executive director of population health and social medicine at the University Health Network.
“If it’s not being targeted for better vaccine access, that’s obviously something that’s very concerning based on the data,” he said.
“Hot spots” identified by the province as having high COVID risk, and low vaccination rates, have generally been neighbourhoods with lots of essential workers, racialized people and poverty, he said. Many residents have not been able to work from home in comfortable spaces.
The city also launched a “sprint strategy” in mid-April to target the 13 hottest of the hot spots in Scarborough, the northwest corner and Thorncliffe Park with the highest COVID rates and lowest vaccination uptake.
It has since added nine more, including M5A on Wednesday. The area includes Regent Park, which is on the lower end at 44.3 per cent of the 18-plus population with at least one dose.
Toronto Board of Health Chair Joe Cressy said improving neighbourhood vaccine rates show “the sprint strategy works.”
“It’s not only how you save lives, it’s also how you reduce transmission and bring this pandemic to an end,” he said, “Target the hose on the highest flames.”
The province’s allocation of 50 per cent of vaccine supply for two weeks is now ending. But Cressy said the sprint strategy will continue, with pop-ups and vaccines going to the areas that need them most, as supply allows.
The approach is based on data, and new areas, such as Kensington-Chinatown, could be added, depending on supply, he said.
Based on the 2016 census, the median household income of residents of Kensington-Chinatown was $ 44,216, well below the city average of $ 65,829. The visible minority population was higher than the city average of 51.5 per cent, at 60.3 per cent. The neighbourhood also had a higher rate of inadequate housing than the rest of the city, 9.7 per cent compared to 7.1 per cent.
Between April 22 and May 12, Kensington-Chinatown recorded 93 cases of the virus and a rate of 518 cases per 100,000 — higher than surrounding neighbourhoods — according to Toronto Public Health.
The dense downtown neighbourhood, which pre-pandemic was a bustling centre for small businesses, also has a high proportion of rental households at 71 and is about 15 per cent seniors.
Kingsway South, meanwhile, has a median household income of $ 151,552 and 12 per cent visible minorities. Less than 20 per cent (18.5 per cent) of households are renters. Seniors, who would have had the first crack at vaccines, make up 21 per cent of the population there.
Toronto Public Health “continues to evaluate the Team Toronto Sprint Strategy and add priority neighbourhoods as necessary,” said spokesperson Keisha Mair in an emailed statement.