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Park-Extension mosque hosts mobile vaccination clinic

Assuna Annabawiyah Mosque temporarily opens its doors to raise vaccination rates

By Joe Bongiorno Park-Extension News

“Parc-Extension has catching up to do,” said Francine Dupuis, associate CEO of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal.

Dupuis, the mosque’s imam, and the coordinator of the Parc-Extension Round Table announced on Tuesday that Park-Extension’s Assuna Annabawiyah Mosque is hosting an appointment-free mobile vaccination clinic for two days, offering 160 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on each day.

“Our average [vaccination rate] in West-Central [Montreal] is thirty per cent, more or less, and it’s 20 per cent here. We are aiming to raise the vaccination rate of the population in West-Central Montreal,” said Dupuis. “We thought it would be a good idea to go meet people close to their place of worship because there are a lot of religious people in this area.

“We will try to offer more walk-in services as opposed to [asking the public to go] on the internet to make an appointment. That can be a barrier for some people who are not familiar with these devices and the language.”

Dupuis also listed the local population’s busy schedules and irregular work hours as possible reasons for comparatively low vaccination rates, but the associate CEO stressed that religious faith was not a source of vaccine hesitancy. “All religions think that people should be healthy.”

“It’s a first in Quebec,” said Imam Salam Elmenyawi. “It’s an important step to show that our doors are open for everyone, that they are all welcome to come, and that we will work together to improve our chances of quickly getting rid of [COVID-19]. We are trying to fight the same problem together in our society that doesn’t care if you are a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian, or non-religious. Never mind our skin color, our faith, our gender, our nationality, or background. What matters is that we are all Quebeckers.”

Elmenyawi said that he was proud to work with CIUSSS. Members of the mosque are happy to interact with society at large and welcome the chance to show that places of worship are open to the public, he said.

The mosque, Elmenyawi explained, has made adaptations to accommodate the public including installing new carpeting. In maintaining mosque decorum, members of the public who come to get vaccinated can either take off their shoes upon entering or put on shoe covers.

“What we noticed on the ground is that many people had a lot of concerns about vaccination, said Eve Torres, coordinator of the Parc-Extension Round Table. “People needed information and for some in the language they are comfortable with.”

Torres said that communication and collaboration between the CIUSSS and the neighbourhood round table has greatly improved since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We hope other mobile vaccination clinics sites will see the light of day in other communities, and that there will be others here as well.”

Mayor Giuliana Fumagalli greeted people queuing in the line that snaked down Hutchinson to Jean-Talon. “I’m very happy about the turnout,” Fumagalli said. “I think that it is important for us to participate in this vaccination campaign. It was purposely organized so that we could have more places that are close to where people live, where people interact, and it’s also the trust factor. People come to the mosque. They trust their religious leaders.”

On the number of doses, Fumagalli said Parc-Extension would welcome more available vaccine. “We’ll take everything that’s given to us. And I think they will see with all the people that are here now that they may need to give us more.”

According to Parc-Extension city counsellor, Mary Deros, Parc-Extension’s hot spot status required that the health board bring vaccination sites to the residents instead of relying on residents to go to the sites. “This will help to vaccinate as many people as possible, so we can make our district safe.”

But Deros stressed the need to maintain safety measures. “We still need to keep our social distances. We need to wear our masks when we are with people because we don't know how long this thing will last.”

“The more we vaccinate, the more we protect our families, our friends, our coworkers and ourselves,” said Dupuis. “It’s a personal responsibility, but it’s also a collective responsibility. We definitely hope that it will be popular because in the end we all benefit from it.”

Sukhjinder Singh and his uncle were two of the dozens of people who stood in line to get the jab on Tuesday afternoon. “Somebody told me that there was without appointment so you can come here and get vaccinated,” Singh said. “I’m so excited because last year I was COVID positive.”

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