The Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, which helps settle refugees in and around the city, has amassed a database of 6,000 people it has assisted over the years. Now, CCIS and its allies are going through the list, making calls to talk about COVID-19 vaccines.
CCIS, for example, identified 136 former refugees in Calgary who are 65 or older and therefore now qualify to receive a shot, according to Fariborz Birjandian, the organizations’ chief executive. Team members reached out to these individuals to make sure they knew they could get the needle, address questions and, if necessary, arrange appointments and transportation. CCIS and its partners plan to call everyone in the database as they become eligible for vaccination.
“Our job is to make sure that we connect them to make sure they are getting their vaccine,” Mr. Birjandian said. “Everything they need, to just make it simple.”
The calls reach thousands of people who might otherwise fall through the cracks as Alberta expands its vaccination drive. Many of these residents are among the most vulnerable to the coronavirus by virtue of their jobs or living conditions. They may face language barriers, have cultural concerns left unaddressed by mainstream messaging campaigns or lack access to technology. They may want the shot but not know when they can go. About 860 refugees settled in Calgary in 2020, Mr. Birjandian said. These new Canadians may not yet have their bearings.
Mr. Birjandian expects about 500 to 700 people in CCIS’s database will need assistance. The society has been supporting vulnerable members of Calgary’s immigrant community throughout the pandemic, providing everything from information to food.
It is among the community organizations assisting with the coming mass vaccination clinic at Cargill Ltd.’s slaughterhouse in High River, Alta. Health officials are expanding on-site vaccine clinics to meat-packing facilities across the province, giving thousands of people, largely from immigrant communities, easy access to vaccines and information in a variety of languages.
The Alberta International Medical Graduates Association is also part of the unofficial network of organizations reaching out to immigrant and refugee communities. Last week, it launched a phone line for people who have questions about the vaccines and want to talk with doctors who speak their native language or share their cultural background. AIMGA’s members come from 80 countries and collectively speak 60 languages, according to executive director Deidre Lake.
“Our main focus is to be able to help newcomers who speak different languages make informed choices,” she said. “Our role really is to educate people – to respond to their questions.”
Questions range from cultural to practical. (Are the vaccines halal? Yes. Are they mandatory? No). The multilingual physicians can also walk callers through safety concerns and explain how the shots work.
Vaccine proponents have also embraced online town halls in their effort to educate skeptics and connect with hard-to-reach groups. The organization 19 To Zero, for example, has played host to about 35 such events since January, according to Finola Hackett, the physician leading its community outreach strategy. Target audiences range from mosques in Edmonton to farming communities south of Calgary.
“We’re trying to do it in a networked way because people trust people that they know – leaders in their community‚” Dr. Hackett said.
This week, 19 To Zero held an information session with the Ukrainian National Association and put on town halls tailored for the Calgary Ability Network, complete with simplified slides, closed captioning and an American Sign Language interpreter. It has also recently teamed up with faith leaders and rural communities.
About 1,000 people have attended the online vaccine events, Dr. Hackett said, but she expects these types of targeted campaigns to have a broader influence.
“I like to think of it as a ripple effect because if one or two people at each event have those conversations around the dinner table or at work … you reach many thousands.”
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