Medical staff administer Covid-19 vaccines to residents of a LOFT community housing complex in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on March 26, 2021 (AFP / Cole Burston)

Covid-19 vaccinations offered by Ontario mobile clinics are voluntary

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Social media posts claim that medical authorities are going door-to-door to force people to get Covid-19 vaccines in Ontario. This is false; vaccination is not mandatory in Canada, and public health experts say mobile clinics have been set up in Ontario to reach mostly older people in densely populated, high-risk neighborhoods who otherwise might have difficulties accessing the shots.

“These sick politicians want to come to our homes to force us to take an experimental injection that has been killing people!” reads an April 7, 2021 Instagram post.

Screenshot of an Instagram post taken on April 14, 2021

Other posts also draw misleading conclusions from Ontario Premier’s Doug Ford speeches and articles about the mobile vaccination clinics that have been set up in Toronto.

Screenshot of posts on Facebook and Instagram post taken on April 14, 2021

Programs offering door-to-door vaccination are targeting “high risk” areas in Ontario following a surge of cases in the most populous Canadian province. As of mid-April, 19 percent of the Canadian population has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Contacted by AFP, Ford’s cabinet did not reply.

Samir Sinha, associate professor at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at the University of Toronto, said the claims were “disturbing” because the vaccination program is not mandatory.

“Everybody has the right to choose to get a vaccine or not get a vaccine,” he said.

He explained that in Toronto, some people do not speak English or French, do not have access to a computer or a telephone to book an appointment, or cannot afford or manage to get to a vaccination center, so the mobile clinic focuses on helping these communities.

Raisa Deber, professor at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, agreed that the program is intended to “ease access,” particularly for people who do not drive.

“No one is being forced to get the vaccine in Ontario,” she said.

Isaac Bogoch, infectious diseases specialist at Toronto General Hospital, also confirmed that residents are informed beforehand that the mobile vaccination clinic team is coming to their neighborhood or unit so that they can decide if they want the vaccine.

Programs such as this “are a hallmark feature of equitable vaccine delivery,” he said.

“These are communities that are disproportionately impacted by the virus, and they’re also disproportionately negatively impacted by policies to curb the spread of the virus. We need to do everything we can to support individuals living in these communities. Lowering barriers to vaccination by going door-to-door is a tremendous public service.”

The mobile clinic program plans to serve 6,000 people, according to Sinha, who co-authored an article about the effort. As of mid-April, more than 2,000 have been inoculated through the program. The aim is to catch Toronto up to the rest of Ontario in reaching people aged 80 and older.

Sinha said most older people do not get the vaccine not because they do not want to, but because it is harder for them to access it, particularly the vaccines that need to be stored at sub-zero temperatures, and may not be available from their local doctor.

He added that confusion around vaccine distribution in Ontario might have fostered the spread of false claims.

“The spread of misinformation like this makes people a lot more worried about the process and more hesitant, and that’s the last thing we need when we’re trying to reach herd immunity.”

AFP Fact Check has debunked other claims about the Covid-19 vaccine here.