By the end of August all three of Hamilton’s mass COVID vaccinations will close, as the program pivots to smaller clinics, pharmacies and family physicians.
The first of the big clinics to close will be the HHSC Vaccination Clinic at 293 Wellington North which will be closed as of Wednesday. Nearly a quarter of all vaccine doses administered in Hamilton so far were given at the Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) vaccine clinic. That’s more than 160,000 doses given since December 23, 2020 by the staff at the clinic.
The first COVID-19 clinic in Hamilton opened just before the holidays – a welcome present and a ray of hope after a difficult year.
By the end of 2020, the Hamilton portion of the largest vaccination campaign in Canadian history was underway.
Hamilton’s diverse health assets were mobilized
It was necessary to mobilize the entire health care infrastructure in Hamilton The partners who mobilized quickly to activate the vaccine clinic included Hamilton Public Health, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, Hamilton Family Health Team, McMaster Family Health Team, primary care physicians, Hamilton Paramedic Services and the team at Hamilton Health Sciences. Approximately 150 people worked or volunteered in the clinic at one time or another.
The clinic brought together all sorts of health professionals who worked to vaccinate hundreds of people each day. From primary care physicians who stepped up to start providing immunizations, to support staff who volunteered to book thousands of appointments, everyone’s contribution helped ensure the clinic’s successful run.
“We had an extremely organized and streamlined process in the clinic,” says Dr. Kuldeep Sidhu, Chief of Emergency Medicine at HHS, who helped to get the vaccine clinic off the ground.
The “vaccinators” were made up of staff, physicians, and volunteers. It was a “happy place,” says Ingrid St. Pierre, one of the vaccinators who volunteered to work in the clinic while her usual role as a nurse navigator on the mobile cancer screening coach was paused during the pandemic.
At peak, 1,000 vaccinations per day
Emergency physician Dr. Paul Miller worked at the clinic and described it as “positive and upbeat. “It almost seems unique in healthcare that people are happy to come into a clinic. It’s a nice change,” he says.
At its peak, the staff and physicians at the clinic immunized over 1,000 people a day. None of this success would have been possible without the people who prepared the vaccine for use. The HHS pharmacy team, including pharmacist Rida Batool, were instrumental in this collective achievement.
Logistics were critical
Pharmacy technicians are responsible for mixing the drug to make the vaccine in batches, while pharmacists oversee the vaccine preparation process and keep track of the inventory and movement of the vaccine throughout the day. The team had to produce just enough vaccine for the scheduled appointments that day, but also ensure there are no extras so not a single dose was wasted.
But before that, it was the responsibility of Bay Area Research Logistics (BARL), part of the Bay Area Health Trust, to store the vaccine after it arrived onsite.
“We brought specialized expertise and storage capacity to receive, store and ship ultra-low frozen product through our years of logistics work with clinical trials,” says BARL logistics and facilities manager Adam Macinnis. When vials of the vaccine arrive at the clinic, they went straight into a special, -70 degree freezer until the pharmacy team was ready to defrost them.
A team of information technology specialists from HHS and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton created, in record time, a vaccine registration tool for staff, physicians and learners. The tool launched on January 6, 2021 and was used until a provincewide system was implemented in the spring.
In addition, HHS’ Health Information Technology Services (HITS) team had to ensure that the clinic staff could access and use the software provided by the Ministry of Health to upload data and track vaccination activity.
Scheduling and appointments
In just three weeks, Bill Butler and his team deployed a solution for scheduling appointments, plus onboarded and trained 100 schedulers and clinic staff to schedule appointments, track attendance, and manage rescheduling efforts during vaccine eligibility changes.
When the clinic opened, schedulers at the vaccine clinic began calling to book 800-1000 appointments a day.
“When I called to let people know they had an appointment, they felt like they had won the lottery!” says scheduling coordinator Sue Pantitis. “I could hear the hope and relief in their voice.” “It was an honour to be calling people for appointments,” says scheduling coordinator Andrea Scime.
Get vaccinated, other clinics are still open
Although large-scale clinics are winding down, vaccination efforts continue across the city. Vaccines are the best way to defeat COVID-19 and reduce the impact of the pandemic on our healthcare system and our community.