TORONTO, Ontario (Wednesday, July 20, 2022) — With summer entertainment on the agenda, major cultural festivals and outdoor events are a big attraction for the province’s Black community, which is why the Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity (BSTF) is reinforcing its message of COVID-19 precautions for this high-risk community.
With large-scale cultural events — such as the Toronto Caribbean Carnival, TD JerkFest and Jamaica’s 60th Anniversary celebrations — on the horizon, the BSTF is warnig that it is imperative that Black and racialized communities practice COVID-19 safety protocols.
“We recently celebrated AfroFest, a 2-day outdoor event, with the majority of attendees being from the Black community, and our concern is, very few people wore masks — mainly elderly folks had them on — and there wasn’t much social distancing,” observed co-Chair of the BSTF, Dr. David Burt, an immunologist with a background in vaccine testing and product development, in a media release yesterday.
“We all want to get to the way it was before the pandemic, however, COVID-19 and the new variant BA.5 are here, and we are definitely in a seventh wave.”
The Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity was created, by the City of Toronto, in the fall of 2020, to engage with Black communities around the disparities in COVID-19 test positivity, hospitalization and mortality rates, as well as the need for comprehensive prevention efforts such as knowledge of the various vaccines.
On June 14, last year, it presented its final report — a culmination of months of consultation and research with Black communities across Toronto — to the city’s Board of Health. The report outlined seven key community concerns regarding responses during the pandemic, and detailed recommended actions for various orders of government to take to address these concerns.
“The Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity has played a lead role in identifying and addressing systemic barriers to vaccine access in Black communities, as well as the impact of anti-Black racism on health care access and services.
“The recommendations in this report speak to the depth of the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has on Toronto’s Black residents, and the need for action from all three levels of government on addressing discrimination in health services, and increasing investment and supports for Black communities,” noted Councillor Joe Cressy, then-Chair of the Toronto Board of Health, at the time of the BSFT report presentation.
The BSTF is now acutely concerned about the reluctance to get the third dose, which evidence shows gives added protection against severe disease, the organisation explained in its release.
“Many have stopped at one or two doses, when to be fully vaccinated, three shots are needed, plus the upcoming boosters. Black and racialized communities are still at higher risk than the general population to contract COVID-19 and as of 2021, at higher risk to be hospitalized,” it added.
The key messages the BSTF would like to get out to the community are:
- 3 vaccines plus booster will give the best protection.
- Vaccination will reduce the health risks of long COVID-19.
- You can get COVID-19 multiple times, but effects are minimized if vaccinated.
- COVID-19 is still here, along with a new contagious variant BA.5.
- Masks are still needed to be worn inside, and outside, in large crowds.
- Social distance.
- Wash your hands regularly.
”After 2 years of COVID-19 it is understandable why many in our community have ‘pandemic fatigue’ and want to get back to normal life, especially during these summer months. We all want to participate in, and enjoy, the Black carnival and festival season, but in a way that does not increase the risk of either catching or spreading COVID”, advised Dr. Burt.