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Markham groups 'instrumental' to York Region's vaccine effort

Heidi Riedner
June 15, 2021

The prospect of getting everyone in York Region fully vaccinated has most people jumping for joy.

“Vaccines are our best defence against COVID-19 and our best shot at keeping ourselves, loved ones, workplaces and community safe,” said Jonille De Los Santos, the site manager at York Region Public Health’s Aaniin Community Centre vaccination clinic in Markham.

“The sooner people are vaccinated, the sooner our lives can return to normal,” she added.

The success of York Region’s vaccine rollout has been due in large part to community partners stepping up to the plate.

The volunteer group PinkCars, for example, has booked appointments for about 3,800 seniors and offered more than 400 rides to and from vaccination clinics since the organization's inception on March 1.

While those aged 75 plus primarily need help with rides and physical help going into vaccination clinics, younger seniors often face language barriers, so volunteers help match seniors with translators to improve comprehension and ease anxiety.

“When the first phase of the second doses started to get rolled out, the stress and anxiety amongst seniors started all over again,” says group founder Shanta Sundarason.

“So many are desperate to get fully vaccinated so they can feel safe and hopefully be able to hug their loved ones again.”

The Finlayson Group, who own and manage six McDonald's restaurants in York Region, also pitched in, donating meal vouchers so all seniors got a treat on their way home.

Pink Cars is among many community partners and agencies instrumental to public health’s vaccine effort, said De Los Santos.

The list includes Carefirst, Vaughan Community Health Centre, York Region Muslims, Addictions Services for York Region and many others.

Markham & Stouffville Vaccinates has also helped many individuals receive their vaccine at Aaniin.

The City of Markham and the region’s three hospitals have also been critical to the clinic’s operations and the region’s Vaccine Task Force, providing valued insights and advice, said De Los Santos.

Access York, the region’s contact centre that provides telephone support seven days a week and offers translation services, as well as York Region Paramedic Services, have also been key partners throughout the entire pandemic, whether it is related to testing at congregate living settings or vaccinating residents who are homebound.

“By working together, we are one step closer towards community immunity,” De Los Santos said.

As a thank you to all those working on the front lines of the vaccination centres, as well as in ICUs, the sewers at WE Care -- York Region, in association with Pink Cars, have been busy sewing a few gifts of appreciation.

Pink Cars volunteers delivered handmade scrub caps with some freshly baked cookies for good measure to vaccination centres, including Aaniin, on Wednesday, June 2.

“Getting the COVID-19 vaccine represents joy, hope and relief to some, but to others it is a leap of blind faith, fear of what they are having injected or worries about side effects,” said Sundarason. “These amazing front-liners put the fears and concerns to bed and take time to reassure and comfort.”


Staff at the Aaniin clinic had to decline the gift, however, asking the donations be redirected to other organizations in need.

“Public Health has stringent infection prevention and control measures in place at our clinics; some of these items may cause concerns for the health and safety of staff,” said Patrick Casey, the region’s director of corporate communications.

“For example, some items may hinder personal protective equipment efficacy or consumables may lead to gatherings,” he said.

“Giving back to the community we serve is a very important part of our York Region corporate culture; if organizations wish to donate, we ask they consider our corporate partners at the United Way or another organization of their choice,” he added.

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Reporter Heidi Riedner looked into how community partners are aiding the region's vaccine effort.