Would you like Pfizer with that? A look at the GTA’s first drive-thru COVID vaccination clinic, opening Monday at Canada’s Wonderland

Drive-thrus are no longer just for coffees or burgers; the Greater Toronto Area’s first drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination site opens Monday at Canada’s Wonderland in Vaughan.

At Wonderland, York public health could potentially vaccinate 1,600 people a day once the drive-thru is fully operational, said spokesperson Patrick Casey.

“These clinics provide an opportunity for many individuals who may be homebound or who feel more comfortable in their vehicles,” Casey said, adding that 500 homebound clients were vaccinated at a test run March 18.

A maximum of four people per vehicle can be vaccinated — as long as they meet eligibility requirements and have booked an appointment ahead of time. They will receive either the Pfizer or Moderna shot, based on availability.

Clients can go through the clinic entirely in their vehicles, moving through four areas set up in the parking lot; entry and screening, registration, immunization and a 15-minute observation period. There will be four lanes and four mobile immunization units on site.

Several other drive-thru vaccination clinics have operated across Ontario, including sites in the Ottawa area and Peterborough, though nothing is planned in Toronto yet.

Grace Peacock, a spokesperson for Canada’s Wonderland, said the organization is “proud to support York Region” in its mass vaccination drive.

“We plan to support their efforts for as long as we’re operationally able to do so,” Peacock said of the amusement park, which is scheduled to reopen May 14.

In addition to Canada’s Wonderland, York has two other drive-thrus planned; one is scheduled to open mid-April, at SoccerCity in Stouffville, and another at Markham Fairgrounds, with the opening not yet determined. The SoccerCity site may potentially open to residents from across Ontario, but will prioritize York residents first.

Though drive-thru sites are more common in American cities, a new vaccine drive-thru simulation developed by York University researchers is helping organizations optimize this method in Ontario, and south of the border.

York University’s Ali Asgary, one of the researchers, said agencies can use the simulation to determine operational criteria, like how many lanes are needed to achieve hourly vaccination targets, and predict average waiting times.

“A lot of these drive-thru clinics need to be set-up in a very short time frame, which does not give agencies enough time often to design them” said Asgary, director of the Advanced Disaster, Emergency and Rapid Response Simulation. “A tool like this can help them customize their model to their particular setting as fast as possible … and help with finding gaps and issues that may arise.”

Asgary worked with health officials in Renfrew County to plan three vaccination drive-thru clinics for regional front-line health workers. At the last clinic — set up in the local Arnpior District high school parking lot — 265 health-care workers were vaccinated in two hours.

Using Asgary’s simulation, UC Health, a non-profit health system based in Colorado, was able to vaccinate 10,000 people in 12 hours over a weekend. The average time to complete the entire process, including the 15-minute observation period, was 22.4 minutes per car. Asgary’s team is currently working with Chicago-based Cook County Health to prepare its drive-thru facility for operation.

In comparison, one of the GTA’s very first vaccination sites, held at Centennial College’s Progress campus in Scarborough, was able to vaccinate a maximum of 2,000 people a day once fully operational. The entire walk-in process — including screening, registration, vaccination and the 15-minute observation period — averaged around half an hour.

Some regions, including Toronto, York and Peel, are offering COVID-19 vaccines to residents born in 1946 or earlier. As of Monday, all Ontarians aged 75 and older (born 1946 and earlier) can start scheduling COVID-19 vaccine appointments through the province’s booking portal.

Asgary said there are several benefits to drive-thru sites: large numbers of people can be vaccinated in a short period of time; they’re more comfortable for vaccine recipients (if organized properly); and most importantly, the concern of virus transmission at the drive-thrus is minimal.

Drive-thrus also help reduce pressure on other types of mass clinics in traditional settings.

“The issue is that it’s probably not possible to vaccine a large number of people in a short period of time using small-scale clinics,” he added. “If you could … you may not need drive-thrus.”

Torontonians eager to roll up their sleeves for a COVID-19 jab through a car window will have to wait. Vaccine supplies must increase before city officials will consider that possibility, said city spokesperson Brad Ross.

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“Opening up opportunities for vaccination as more supply becomes available, such as drive-thru clinics, is something (Toronto) is exploring, but no decisions have been made yet on this,” said Ross. “Vaccine supply drives all decision-making about clinic planning. But nothing is off the table.”

So far, over 419,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Toronto. Four city-run immunization clinics are open, including one just opened in Thorncliffe Park, a partnership between East Toronto Health Partners and Michael Garron Hospital.

Another two city-run clinics will open March 29, another April 5 and a final three in mid-April, totalling 10 immunization sites, Ross said.



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