#TeamVaccine: All Toronto LTC homes vaccinated ahead of schedule thanks to primary care teams

Jan 15, 2021

Image: Together as #TeamVaccine, DFCM faculty Drs. Karen Tu (University Health Network - Toronto Western), Karen Weyman (Unity Health, St. Michaels), Leslie Beyers (Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre), Karen Fleming (Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre) and Rachel Peters (University Health Network – Toronto Western) with Dr. Peter Derkach (West Park Healthcare Centre). 

In the race to protect Toronto’s most vulnerable populations from COVID-19, primary care providers have pulled together to vaccinate all 87 Toronto long-term care homesahead of schedule.

When the province set a target of vaccinated all eligible long-term care residents by Jan 21, there was little the next big question was, how?

This is a massive undertaking with complicated logistics. Dubbed #TeamVaccine, family doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other primary care providers are sharing resources and expertise to administer the first vaccine doses quickly and safely.

That meant vaccinating two or three long-term care homes each day. A feat made possible thanks to incredible leadership and collaboration between Toronto’s health networks and staff working in long-term care settings.

Dr. Camille Lemieux, an Associate Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine (DFCM) and University Health Networks’s Chief of Family Medicine, explains. “On December 30 we were asked to develop a strategy to get vaccinations into long-term care homes. 24 hours later, we visited our first home and invited other primary care leaders to shadow our mobile vaccination teams and share the same model across the city.”

“We’re sharing logistics and resources to get residents vaccinated as quickly as possible. There are no silos here, everyone has put down their hospital tags and come together as Team Vaccine. The ability to become one team so quickly has been very moving and we want this to be the model for the future, pulling in the same direction to protect those that need it most.”

At each home, previously hesitant staff and residents see colleagues and friends getting their shots and ask to be vaccinated.

“In the Toronto East region we visited all our 22 long-term care and retirement homes in four days, safely vaccinating 2500+ eligible residents and staff by Jan 6, 2021. The level of collaboration and organization between hospitals, logistics and homes was incredible. The homes had the consents ready, and on Dec 31 it took just five minutes to fill our shifts with six teams of volunteers going out each day," explains Dr. Tia Pham, Associate Professor in the DFCM and founding director of the East Toronto Family Practice Network. “But what is most meaningful is the overwhelming and ecstatic response by residents and families, who sometimes watch the moment on the phone. Receiving the vaccine is a huge relief. The big smiles, grateful tears and beautiful words shared with each of us while vaccinating is a real gift.”

The scale and speed of vaccination in long-term care facilities is a testament to the passion and impact of DFCM faculty and primary care teams.

“The collaboration and team-work on display across DFCM and Toronto’s hospital networks has been truly inspiring”, says Dr. David Tannenbaum, Interim Chair in DFCM. “Throughout the city, family doctors and other primary care providers are showing strength, resilience and determination, and doing remarkable work to protect our most vulnerable residents and those who care for them.”

Now, #TeamVaccine is moving to residential homes and partnering with regional hospitals to vaccinate more Ontarians. With leadership from Dr. David Kaplan, Associate Professor in DFCM and Chief of Clinical Quality at Ontario Health, Lemieux, Pham, and other family physician leaders across Toronto, primary care teams are leading this unprecedented COVID-19 vaccination program.