Canadian Red Cross mobile vaccine clinics demonstrate value of teamwork and agility

By: Jon Adam Chen, communications advisor

For most of us, getting a shot only lasts an instant, but for public health specialist Shawna Novak, the vaccination story begins before clinic doors open and ends long after doses are administered.

Shawna is part of the Canadian Red Cross vaccination team operating clinics across southern Ontario, working in support of the Ontario Ministry of Health and alongside local public health units.

To date, Red Cross vaccinators have provided over 60,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine at mobile clinics across the province - enough to fill Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena to capacity more than three times over.
A woman in a mask standing outside beside a sign that reads Vaccination Clinic
Public Health Specialist Shawna Novak says her team works extremely hard to guide people through the journey of getting vaccinated.

“Our team works very hard to make sure that those who trust us with giving them a vaccination leave afterwards and feel they've been supported through the journey of getting vaccinated, in flattening the curve, and bringing us closer to the end of the pandemic,” says Shawna.

Shawna and her Red Cross public health team colleagues conduct outreach ahead of clinic dates and collect feedback to ensure clinics are suited to the needs of people getting vaccinated.

They believe much of their success at the clinics can be owed to one key ingredient.

“When people come for a vaccine, they look for trust,” explains Dharmistha Kaul, who is the public health lead.

This trust is a prerequisite not only for the individuals and families getting vaccinated, but also for the many community partners that host the clinics, from town halls to cultural centres and faith-based institutions.

The Red Cross works alongside these organizations to raise awareness about their locations and times. Building on the strength of these relationships, Red Cross clinical teams have often returned since the first round of vaccinations to offer booster doses.

“It is trust in the Canadian Red Cross that makes this easy, because they know we are coming with humanitarian feelings,” says Dharmistha.
A woman in mask, face shield and medical wear is talking to another person sitting across from them.
Over 60,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been provided by Red Cross vaccinators at mobile clinics across Ontario.

Sidney Frattini greets those coming to the clinics to get vaccinated and lends support as a safety and wellbeing advisor. Sidney says the Red Cross’s extensive record of responding to emergencies has helped to build confidence in the clinics.

“We have a strong connection with the public - the Red Cross is a trustworthy organization and has been providing humanitarian services for a long time [as] a link between the government and the public.”

Global Reach

The Red Cross has been responding to emergencies caused by infectious diseases long before COVID-19. Since the outset of the pandemic, its Health in Emergencies (HiE) team of doctors, nurses and other health experts have brought their experience in international health emergencies, including cholera and Ebola, to relief efforts at home. In addition, many clinic personnel bring a wealth of first-hand experience from all corners of the globe.

Shawna adds that many people showing up at the clinics are assured to find a team that not only demonstrates expertise, but also reflects cultural awareness and fluency. "We have a really diverse team that is representative of the communities we're serving."
A white board with orange and blue post-it notes stuck to it.
People coming into the clinics to get vaccinated have left thousands of messages of thanks.

More than fifteen languages are spoken among the Red Cross’s roster of public health personnel at the clinics.


Since the Red Cross first began administering vaccination doses last year, its teams have continued to adapt to address the needs of each community and clinic.

The design and flow of the clinics are adjusted based on changing demands. From clinics mainly outdoors in spring and summer, to indoor GO-VAXX clinics on converted buses in the fall, and mobile clinics located inside community centres and hubs in winter, Red Cross teams continue to respond to the demand for the vaccine. 
Line ticketing systems were introduced to ease the flow of people coming into clinics and limit wait times.

When children ages 5 to 11 became eligible for the vaccine, the Red Cross once again tailored its vaccination model for this age group.

“Positive experiences during vaccine injections help to minimize fear and pain during vaccination and can help to prevent subsequent health care avoidance behaviours,” says Assil Alnaser, deputy operations manager for mobile vaccination in Ontario.
A pink post-it note with a heart in black marker drawn on it.
Feedback post-it note left at a mobile vaccination clinic

The Red Cross developed a range of new measures to make sure vaccination clinics are as comfortable and welcoming as possible for children.

This includes ensuring items like teddy bears and colouring books are available while children wait for their vaccines, as well as installing specially designated semi-private “pods” so that family members can provide their children with comfort and support.

Tailoring the approaches at the clinics seems to be working. Red Cross public health teams have developed feedback collection methods including post-it notes on the walls of the clinics.

Thousands of notes from visitors at the clinics have been received and they have shared overwhelmingly positive experiences.

For the team, this exemplifies the patient-centred approach that guides the work of the Red Cross.

Learn more about how the Red Cross is supporting individuals, families and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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