Our Scarborough community has been significantly impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with our SHN hospitals seeing the second-highest number of cases throughout the province. SHN has also been leading the way in delivering vaccines to our neighbours and has surpassed the 500,000 doses milestone!

We sat down with Tobi Odueke, the Interim Manager of our COVID-19 vaccine clinics, to talk about the challenges and successes of our clinics.

1. You’ve been the Manager of our COVID-19 vaccine clinics since the beginning of 2021. What was your role prior to this, and how has the shift impacted you?

Prior to the onset of the Vaccine Clinics, I was the Medical Affairs Advisor and oversaw physician recruitment and credentialing in the Medical Administration department.  I worked closely with our Professional Staff and Medical Leaders, so working in the vaccine clinics alongside many of them was rewarding.

Being able to shift my focus to the vaccine clinics was a glimmer of hope and reinforced my passion for health care during a difficult time. Taking a step back from the day-to-day office work and be more involved with the hospital operations allowed me to see the bigger picture and see how important inclusive, equitable and accessible health care is for Scarborough.

It was a challenge, of course, not only because I didn’t have any clinical experience but because our vaccine clinics exploded in a very short time. We started with a small clinic at the Centenary hospital with about 60 staff & physicians and then it seems overnight we shifted to having 5 clinics, including our mass vaccination clinic at Centennial College. Going from approximately 60 team members to over 1,200 in under 2 months is no easy feat!

However, it has been extremely rewarding because we’ve been able to hire many people who are just starting in their health care careers and are so passionate about helping people. We also saw physicians from all over the GTA coming to help support our vaccination efforts.

2. Our Scarborough vaccine clinics have administered the most doses throughout the city of Toronto. What does this achievement mean for you, your team and the entire Scarborough community?

It’s an amazing accomplishment. From the very beginning, we set up a culture of helping the people of Scarborough. Especially because COVID-19 hit Scarborough so much harder than many other neighbourhoods in the GTA, it’s the driving force for us to work hard every day to vaccinate our community.

It was a challenge initially because Scarborough wasn’t allocated an equitable amount of doses compared to how many people we have here and how much COVID-19 has impacted us. But that didn’t deter us – we still dedicated ourselves to our community and used our drive and passion for instilling a culture of resilience in our clinics.

We weren’t trying to be the best or thinking about administering the most doses – it just happened organically because we’re so committed to getting as many people in our community protected as possible. The achievements were just a bonus!

It shows that when you lead with engagement, instill a sense of purpose and work to protect and support the community, putting patients and their families first – the possibilities are endless. Our team is fantastic, and our culture at the clinics comes from the top down. Our SHN executive leadership has been outstanding and constantly demonstrates their passion for and unwavering dedication to our Scarborough community.

3. Our SHN hospitals saw the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases in Ontario. How important is it to get our Scarborough community vaccinated and ensure equitable access to the vaccine?

First and foremost, we always put our patients and community first. Knowing that the people in Scarborough were most affected in terms of infection rates and hospitalization numbers pushed us to fight for equitable distribution of the vaccine.

Because of several socio-economic factors and determinants of health in Scarborough, COVID-18 highlighted inequities in the health care system as a whole and the community. SHN’s leadership recognized this and continuously advocated for more vaccines – fair and equitable distribution.

Even though we had the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases, we weren’t getting the second-highest number of vaccines.

With the support of our leadership and advocacy at the city and provincial levels, we’ve been able to distribute vaccines throughout Scarborough strategically. We started to see a change in how vaccines were distributed and know it was a direct result of our advocacy for our community. It also allowed us to start doing pop-up clinics in multiple Scarborough neighbourhoods and break down barriers to getting vaccinated.

For us to lead the GTA in vaccines, it’s changing the narrative that community hospitals aren’t at the same levels as the downtown hospitals and that we’re not up to the task. We’ve shown that our hospitals and our resilient Scarborough community can accomplish so much.

4. You’ve been with SHN for almost seven years. What is your favourite thing about the community we serve, and what makes Scarborough so special?

I grew up in Pickering, but I’ve worked in Scarborough for most of my professional life and even prior to that. My mom has worked in Scarborough since I was in elementary school, and I spent countless hours at her office during summer breaks, so Scarborough has been my second home for as long as I remember. I love the diversity of Scarborough, many of the families here are 1st generation immigrants like my own. Being able to interact with and learn from people from so many different cultures is what truly makes Scarborough special.

I’m also a foodie – whether it’s roti, suya, samosas or Hakka food, you can find anything you want in Scarborough and know it’s authentic!

5. There may be some people who are still hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine. What would you tell people to encourage them to get vaccinated?

I would encourage them to reach out and connect with SHN’s VaxFacts Clinic. Drs. Latif Murji and Reena Lovinsky have been leading this initiative with some other SHN team members to inform our community and answer any questions about the vaccine.

It’s essential to get as much information as you can from reputable sources, especially with kids going back to school in September and with the Delta variant spreading rapidly.

The most powerful tool we have is knowledge, and it’s important to think about where your information is coming from. VaxFacts can speak with anyone and everyone in our community, considering cultural sensitivities and multiple languages. Our SHN team members reflect our community, so there’s a sense of comfort when you have someone who looks like you or speaks your language to provide information.

We’re extremely grateful to Tobi and the entire SHN team who have been working tirelessly to get Scarborough vaccinated. To view a list of upcoming pop-up clinics visit ScarbVaccine.ca.