Analysis: Closing the vaccine gap in Montreal's poorest neighbourhood

Health workers have gone door-to-door urging Parc-Ex residents to get vaccinated, and a walk-in clinic was set up at Assunna Annabawiya Mosque.

People wait after receiving their COVID-19 vaccine at the Assuna Annabawiya Mosque in Parc-Extension on Tuesday May 4, 2021.

Parc-Extension, which has reported the highest rate of working poor in Montreal, is also posting the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rate in the city, according to newly-released figures by public health authorities.

To close that gap, health workers have gone door-to-door urging Parc-Ex residents to get vaccinated. Vans have driven up and down streets with a loudspeaker delivering the message not only in French, but eight other languages.

And on Tuesday, authorities set up a walk-in vaccine clinic at the Assunna Annabawiya Mosque on Hutchison St., open not just to Muslims but to Sikhs and those of other faiths. Turnout at the clinic — which will open again Wednesday — exceeded organizers’ expectations, but challenges remain.

“There’s nothing we haven’t done,” Francine Dupuis, associate executive director of the centre-west health authority, told the Montreal Gazette.

“This is a district with (newly arrived) immigrants. Many have jobs that are not always very safe and secure. Some go very early in the morning to a meat-processing plant in St-Hyacinthe. They’re bused there. They have tough lives.

“So vaccination is probably not on the top of their priorities,” Dupuis added. “They won’t come to our vaccination centres. So we have to come to them.”

As of May 2, 635,334 Montrealers had received at least one vaccine dose, comprising 30.8 per cent of the city’s population. In Parc-Ex, the rate is 19.9 per cent. The district’s 50-to-59 age group is the least inoculated of all demographics, which stands partly to reason as vaccination has opened only recently to people in their 50s.

But the vaccination rate among Parc-Ex residents in their 60s is still about 20 percentage points lower than the Montreal range of 76.2 to 79.7 per cent for the same age group.

Source: Santé Montréal
Source: Santé Montréal

“Our average is almost the same as Montreal’s,” Dupuis said, alluding to the centre-west health district. “But when you go to Parc-Ex, you see that there is quite a significant difference. It’s lower than everywhere else.”

Early in the pandemic, evidence emerged of high COVID-19 transmission rates in racialized and low-income communities like Montreal North, a pattern that manifested itself in cities across North America. The residents of these communities — often living in small, crowded apartments — clearly are in need of vaccination, but again, they are paying a steep price in the pandemic.

Located just east of Town of Mount-Royal, Parc-Ex is one of Montreal’s most densely populated neighbourhoods. Since the 1990s, immigrants from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have settled in the district. A 2016 study found that the working poverty rate in Parc-Ex was 30.7 per cent, by far the highest in the city.

During the second wave, authorities opened a vaccine clinic at the CLSC de Parc-Extension, but the turnout was low. That’s when Dupuis turned to community leaders for help.

“We contacted a mosque and they said, ‘Yes, sure, you can come,’ ” Dupuis recalled. “We thought that the support of the Imam would help. And there are no appointments at the mosque. People can just come in and get vaccinated.”

Salam Elmenyawi, an Imam and president of the Muslim Council of Montreal, said he gladly accepted to have the mosque serve for two days as a vaccination site.

“I welcomed the idea,” Elmenyawi said. “It was very good, because it’s part of the role of the mosque in society to make sure that in these difficult times we can help everybody around.”

Organizers expected about 100 people would show up Tuesday for vaccination, but the number climbed to more than 200. Although the mosque is open for vaccination to people of all faiths, Elmenyawi acknowledged he’s had to allay the concerns of some Muslims.

“Sometimes people don’t vaccinate during Ramadan,” he explained of the Muslim holy month that ends May 12. “They have doubts that this would spoil their fasting. But we say, no, the rules are very clear on that.

“There were issues relating to whether or not the vaccine is Haram, is forbidden, that it may have certain materials that are not proper. We say regardless of any materials, this is to save lives, and saving lives takes precedence.”

The vaccine clinic, at 7220 Hutchison, will open from 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. Another Parc-Ex walk-in clinic will open on Thursday afternoon at the Centre William-Hingston at 419 Saint-Roch St.

  1. A Montrealer is guided toward the entrance of the Olympic Stadium vaccination centre on Monday March 29, 2021 for his COVID-19 vaccine.

    Analysis: Montreal authorities struggling with COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy

  2. Analysis: Will Montreal ever achieve herd immunity in the pandemic?

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