An injection of hope: HHS temporary COVID vaccine clinic closes
Nearly a quarter of all vaccine doses administered in Hamilton so far were given at the Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) vaccine clinic. That’s more than 160,000 doses given since December 23, 2020 by the staff at the clinic.
The HHS clinic was the first vaccination hub in the city and one of the very first clinics in Ontario to begin immunizing healthcare workers against COVID-19 in late December 2020.
As of August 2, 2021, the HHS vaccine clinic at 293 Wellington St. N. is closed as the city consolidates clinic locations in Hamilton. The months that followed the initial immunization at the clinic have been marked by multiple milestones.
December 2020: A holiday gift
The first COVID-19 clinic in Hamilton opened just before the holidays – a welcome present and a ray of hope after a difficult year.
On December 23, approximately 30 employees from various long-term care homes from across the city were the first people in Hamilton to receive doses of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
“We are grateful to all of the partners who mobilized quickly to activate the vaccine clinic including Hamilton Public Health, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, Hamilton Family Health Team, McMaster Family Health Team, primary care physicians, Hamilton Paramedic Services and the team at Hamilton Health Sciences,” said Bruce Squires, president of McMaster Children’s Hospital, VP of Women’s and Children’s Health at HHS, and co-chair of the city’s vaccine planning and coordination group.
By the end of 2020, the Hamilton portion of the largest vaccination campaign in Canadian history was underway.
A team effort
Approximately 150 people worked or volunteered in the clinic at one time or another.
“Members of teams from facilities, information technology services, pharmacy, clinical areas and schedulers, as well as physicians, were instrumental in this success story,” says Dave McCaig, Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Chief Financial Officer. “We also extend our gratitude to our external partners [Bay Area Health Trust, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, City of Hamilton, Paramedic Services, primary care groups and physicians] who enabled the clinic’s creation and operations since December.”
The clinic brings together all sorts of health professionals who are working to vaccinate hundreds of people each day. From primary care physicians who stepped up to start providing immunizations, to support staff who volunteered to book thousands of appointments, everyone’s contribution helped ensure the clinic’s successful run.
The people with the needle
On vaccination day, the process was seamless.
“We had an extremely organized and streamlined process in the clinic,” says Dr. Kuldeep Sidhu, Chief of Emergency Medicine at HHS, who helped to get the vaccine clinic off the ground.
The “vaccinators” were made up of staff, physicians, and volunteers. It was a “happy place,” says Ingrid St. Pierre, one of the vaccinators who volunteered to work in the clinic while her usual role as a nurse navigator on the mobile cancer screening coach was paused during the pandemic.
Emergency physician Dr. Paul Miller worked at the clinic and described it as “positive and upbeat.
“It almost seems unique in healthcare that people are happy to come into a clinic. It’s a nice change,” he says.
Storage and pharmacy
At its peak, the staff and physicians at the clinic immunized over 1,000 people a day. None of this success would have been possible without the people who prepared the vaccine for use. The HHS pharmacy team, including pharmacist Rida Batool, were instrumental in this collective achievement.
Pharmacy technicians are responsible for mixing the drug to make the vaccine in batches, while pharmacists oversee the vaccine preparation process and keep track of the inventory and movement of the vaccine throughout the day. The team had to produce just enough vaccine for the scheduled appointments that day, but also ensure there are no extras so not a single dose was wasted.
“The vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s the thing that’s going to get us back to normal,” says Batool. “I’m so grateful to be able to contribute even a little bit to the distribution of the vaccine to people in Hamilton.”
But before that, it was the responsibility of Bay Area Research Logistics (BARL), part of the Bay Area Health Trust, to store the vaccine after it arrived onsite.
“We brought specialized expertise and storage capacity to receive, store and ship ultra-low frozen product through our years of logistics work with clinical trials,” says BARL logistics and facilities manager Adam Macinnis. “Our close relationship with Hamilton Health Sciences enabled us to support HHS and Hamilton Public Health by providing this critical capability in the vaccine rollout. The level of teamwork and collaboration from all partners makes me incredibly proud of the work we accomplished.”
When vials of the vaccine arrive at the clinic, they went straight into a special, -70 degree freezer until the pharmacy team was ready to defrost them.
A team of information technology specialists from HHS and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton created, in record time, a vaccine registration tool for staff, physicians and learners. The tool launched on January 6, 2021 and was used until a provincewide system was implemented in the spring.
In addition, HHS’ Health Information Technology Services (HITS) team had to ensure that the clinic staff could access and use the software provided by the Ministry of Health to upload data and track vaccination activity.
“I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to play a role in ensuring the health of our community,” says Rob Young, the HITS lead on this work. “I am retiring from HHS at the end of the summer and this has provided a marvelous bookend to what has been a series of great experiences.”
Scheduling and appointments
In just three weeks, Bill Butler and his team deployed a solution for scheduling appointments, plus onboarded and trained 100 schedulers and clinic staff to schedule appointments, track attendance, and manage rescheduling efforts during vaccine eligibility changes.
“As an IT resource we often don’t see the direct clinical impact of our work,” says Butler. “I was fortunate to spend 3 months on site at the HHS clinic and was able to see the successful use of the scheduling solution and its impact on moving thousands of people through the clinic.”
When the clinic opened, schedulers at the vaccine clinic began calling to book 800-1000 appointments a day.
“When I called to let people know they had an appointment, they felt like they had won the lottery!” says scheduling coordinator Sue Pantitis. “I could hear the hope and relief in their voice.”
It was an honour to be calling people for appointments, says scheduling coordinator Andrea Scime.
“Knowing that I could provide a glimpse of hope for a return to normalcy brought the biggest smile to my face.”
Get your shot
While vaccinations have become widely available through appointments and walk-ins and the HHS clinic has closed, anyone who has not yet received the vaccine is encouraged to get their shot.
Although large-scale clinics are winding down, vaccination efforts continue across the city. Vaccines are the best way to defeat COVID-19 and reduce the impact of the pandemic on our healthcare system and our community.