Two weeks ago, U of T launched its second mass vaccination clinic, run by the University Health Network (UHN) at the UTSG exam centre with significant participation by Sinai Health. Students and volunteers will join to help with the vaccination effort as the clinic grows its operation.

With the launch of the UTSG clinic and talks underway regarding a UTSC clinic, the university is expanding its reach beyond the Peel region, where the UTM clinic is located. The UTSG clinic is operating by appointment only and, similar to the UTM clinic, adhering to the provincial priority schedule for vaccinations.

Lynn Wilson, Vice-Dean Clinical and Faculty Affairs at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, is one of the people who helped get the clinic up and running. She helped the university connect with UHN and assemble a team to run the clinic.

In an interview with The Varsity, Wilson explained that “[the UHN has] a lot of expertise in both mobile clinics and long-term care and in these mass vaccination clinics, and so they very much helped us understand the kinds of human resources [and] the kind of team you need to build.”

As the clinic ramps up its vaccination rate by the end of the month, students in medical fields will join to help with all aspects of the clinic’s operation, from clerical duties, to vaccine handling, and even vaccine administration. Wilson noted that some of the roles will be part of students’ clinical placements or paid summer positions.

She also said that in the future, they may consider opening a few non-medical roles to student volunteers outside of medical fields; however, that remains to be determined. “We’re already hearing from other people [about] how much they would like to help out… but I think we have to see how we do over the next few weeks,” said Wilson, adding that over 1,000 students have expressed interest so far.

Wilson also expressed gratitude toward U of T and UHN for setting up the clinic and developing a strong partnership. “They went above and beyond trying to help us get this together and really create a great clinic.”

Salvatore Spadafora, the head of  U of T’s COVID-19 response group, said in an interview with The Varsity that the university is taking a tri-campus approach to the placement of volunteers so that students can volunteer wherever is closest to them. “Regardless of where [volunteers] want to serve the community, we’re trying to facilitate that,” Spadafora said.

The clinics are tentatively planned to run until August; however, Wilson said that in a few months, the team will have to start considering whether there will be a need to keep the clinic running longer. “We’re going to have to figure out whether or not we need to go beyond August and where [the clinic] will be located because [the clinic is] sitting there in the exam centre,” said Wilson.

Whether or not the clinic will be run past August will depend on the success of the vaccination campaign. Wilson said that the main focus at the moment is to vaccinate enough people and achieve herd immunity until the virus starts to subside, which may take longer than expected as Ontario enters the third wave of the virus with new variants.

Despite the challenges, Spadafora remains hopeful. He said that “planning for [a return to campus] is with the lens of health and safety of faculty, staff, and students, and the wish and desire to return to as many in-person activities [as] are safe.”