Backgrounder
February 3, 2021

The Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity was created in December 2020 as part of the TO Supports: Targeted Equity Action Plan, as a response to data that continued to show that the highest rates of COVID-19 cases and vaccine hesitancy were among Black people of African and Caribbean origins.

The Task Force was created in partnership with the TAIBU Community Health Centre, to address Black community concerns and issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, testing and vaccines. The Task Force has also collaborated closely with the Black Physicians Association of Ontario (BPAO) to develop the vaccine equity strategy.

COVID-19 continues to have a disproportionately high impact on Toronto’s Black and other racialized communities. There is a pressing need to ensure timely, accurate and culturally responsive public health information on COVID-19 testing and vaccines. This Task Force is one of the approaches being used to communicate, mobilize and engage communities most affected by the pandemic in order to address systemic inequities.

The Task Force, which includes many of Canada’s top Black scientists involved in key aspects of vaccine development and Black public health, will review the major concerns and issues around COVID-19 testing and levels of vaccine acceptance, and develop public health recommendations to effectively address Black community concerns. The Task Force will present a final report of its findings and recommendations to the City by April 30, 2021.

Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity – Member Biographies

Dr. Akwatu Khenti

Dr. Akwatu Khenti is the Special Advisor to the City of Toronto’s Targeted COVID Equity Action Plan and the Chair of the Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity. Dr. Khenti is an Assistant Professor with the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto and an advisor to the School on equity and inclusion. He is formerly the Assistant Deputy Minister for the Province of Ontario’s Anti-Racism Directorate, as well as CAMH’s Director of Transformative Global Health.

As Chair of the Task Force, he brings his expertise in anti-Black racism, mental health and the adaptation of mainstream health interventions to African and Caribbean cultures.

Dr. Na-Koshie Lamptey

Dr. Na-Koshie Lamptey is the Deputy Medical Officer of Health for the City of Toronto.  Dr. Lamptey obtained her medical degree at the University of Toronto, as well as degrees in Epidemiology and Public Health Management from Yale and a Bachelor of liberal arts from Princeton University. Dr. Lamptey is a public health and preventive medicine physician committed to improving population health through clinical care, policy development and system advocacy.

Celina Caesar-Chavannes

Celina Caesar-Chavannes has a Bachelor of Science and an Executive MBA from the University of Toronto, as well as an MBA in Healthcare Management from the University of Phoenix. Although most noted for her service as a Member of Parliament, with the Government of Canada representing the Town of Whitby, Mrs. Caesar-Chavannes is also a renowned research consultant and has worked with a variety of international and Canadian private, government and non-government organizations.

Dr. Kwame McKenzie

Dr. Kwame McKenzie is CEO of the Wellesley Institute. He is an international expert on the social causes of illness, suicide and the development of effective, equitable health systems. He is a Professor of Psychiatry at University of Toronto and Director of Health Equity at the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health.

Dr. Candice Todd

Dr. Candice Todd is a naturopathic doctor with expertise in health promotion and disease prevention. Dr. Todd completed her Honors Bachelor of Health Sciences degree at the University of Western Ontario. From there she followed her passion for health by completing an intense four-year program at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine to earn her Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine diploma.

Francis Jeffers

Francis Jeffers is the founder of the Visions of Science Network for Learning. The Network is a means and a platform to promote the awareness of achievements in the sciences within the Black community and to encourage Black and other under-represented youth to aspire to careers in science, mathematics and technology. Mr. Jeffers currently works within the pharmaceutical industry as a Quality Control Specialist, including vaccine development.

Dr. Zainab Abdurrahman

Dr. Zainab Abdurrahman is a graduate of the University of Toronto Medical School and completed both her pediatrics and subspecialty training in Clinical Immunology and Allergy at McMaster University. At McMaster Children’s Hospital she is the allergy lead in the Special Immunization Clinic focusing on vaccine allergy. She is also a practicing allergist in the Greater Toronto Area.

Dr. Onye Nnorom

Dr. Onye Nnorom is a Family Doctor and a Public Health & Preventive Medicine specialist. Dr. Nnorom completed her medical degree at McGill University and then completed a Masters of Public Health (Epidemiology) at the University of Toronto. Being of Nigerian and Trinidadian heritage, she is particularly interested in Black community health and wellness, and racism as a social determinant of health. She is the President of the Black Physicians’ Association of Ontario and the host of the podcast ‘Race, Health and Happiness’ where she interviews successful Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color, providing wisdom on how to stay well in a racialized world.

Trevor Aldridge

Trevor Aldridge is the Senior Director of Quality & Compliance at Brevitas Consulting Inc. He has more than 30 years of industry experience, including product and process development and the manufacturing of biopharmaceuticals. His previous positions include Director Quality Operations with Sanofi Pasteur Ltd and Drug and Biologicals Specialist with Health Canada.

Dr. Upton Allen

Dr. Upton Allen is a professor at the University of Toronto and the Division Head of Infectious Diseases, and Senior Associate Scientist in the Child Health Evaluative Sciences Program at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children (‘Sick Kids’).

Ashleigh Rae-Thomas

Ashleigh Rae-Thomas is an Afro-Caribbean writer, facilitator, key-note speaker and avid community organizer from Toronto, by way of Jamaican roots. After graduating from the University of Guelph-Humber’s Media Studies and Communications, Ashleigh went on to be a participant in Bashy Magazines’ first inaugural writer incubator and the CFC x Black Women Film! Canada Writers Program. In her words, “I learned the importance of vaccines from talking to my grandmother. She told me how there was a smallpox outbreak in Jamaica when she was a child. If it were not for vaccines, she probably would have contracted and died from the highly contagious disease. I always admired her trust in vaccines for her children, since she had witnessed first hand the effects of an unvaccinated society.”

Dr. Isaac Odame

Dr. Isaac Odame is the Haematology Section Head in the Division of Haematology/Oncology and the Medical Director of the Global Sickle Cell Disease Network at the Centre for Global Child Health at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids). He is a Professor and Director of the Division of Adult and Paediatric Haematology in the Departments of Medicine and Paediatrics at the University of Toronto (U of T). He holds the Alexandra Yeo Chair in Hematology in the University of Toronto. His work with the Centre for Global Child Health is building enduring collaborations between clinicians/scientists worldwide to further research and advance care of patients, particularly in low-income countries with heaviest disease burden.

Dr. David Burt

Dr. Burt is an Immunologist with more than 30 years of international experience in the research and development of vaccines against infectious diseases, including influenza and SARS. He holds a Ph.D. in Immunology from the University of Birmingham and a Bachelors of Science in Biological Chemistry from Essex University. He is an award-winning author with over 40 published peer-reviewed scientific manuscripts and is a Harry Jerome Award recipient, amongst other Canadian and international awards. Dr. Burt is currently a member of the Review Panel of the Genomic Applications Partnership Program (GAPP) of Ontario Genomics and a consultant for a company developing a Canadian government supported intranasal vaccine for COVID-19 using technology that he previously developed.

Nicole Welch

Nicole Welch is the Chief Nursing Officer and COVID-19 Liaison Director with Toronto Public Health. She is a Registered Nurse with a Master of Science Degree in Nursing from McGill University and is in the final stages of obtaining a PhD in Applied Psychology and Human Development from the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. She is passionate about issues related to health equity, social justice and supporting the development and maintenance of healthy communities.

Virtual Town Hall Meetings

Additionally, the Task Force will be hosting a series of virtual town hall meetings for the Black community during Black History Month and through March, in conjunction with several community organizations. For more information visit the COVID-19: City Immunization Task Force page

Town Hall Dates:

1.Saturday, February 13, 2 – 5 p.m.

Topic: The historical and contemporary issues of trustworthiness vis a vis vaccines and medical science that give Black people cause for concern

2.Saturday, February 20, 1 – 3 p.m.

Topic: How do vaccines work?

3.Saturday, February 27, 2 – 5 p.m.

Topic: Misinformation and conspiracy theories

4.Monday, March 1, 5 – 8 p.m.

Topic: Mental health problems and consequences of COVID-19

5.Saturday, March 6, 2 – 5 p.m.
Topic: Black health professional risks and resiliencies

April 12 at 6 p.m. – This backgrounder was updated for clarification.
February 19 at 11:45 a.m. – This backgrounder was updated with a revised time for the town hall on February 20.

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