Vaccinating The Homeless: Protecting Our Vulnerable Population

Posted Mar 19th, 2021 in News & Updates

A total of five clinics have been set up at different shelters across the Region – the last clinic being held today.

In a number that has surprised Adrienne Jugley, Commissioner of Community Services at the Region, “approximately 50 to 60 percent of those experiencing homelessness in Niagara have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.” While the vaccines were available to those staying at the respective shelters, Niagara’s outreach team also made sure those who are not staying at a shelter were aware of the clinics and could get the vaccine.

The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered amongst the homeless more than doubled the number of flu shots,” Dr. Karl Stobbe, medical officer at REACH, added.

Other cities such as Toronto and Montreal have similar programs in place, all of which seem to be making significant progress in administering vaccinations to our vulnerable population. 

Why We Have To Protect Our Vulnerable Population
They’re having to face the tough choice of being outside on the streets - exposed to the cold - or being indoors, where they’re exposed to COVID,” Dr. Monty Ghosh, co-chair of the Canadian Network for the Health & Housing of People Experiencing Homelessness, as reported in a CTV News story.

While COVID-19 outbreaks at shelters across Niagara have been kept to a minimum throughout the pandemic compared to other regions across Ontario this doesn't mean that our participants and those in shelters are out of the woods.

According to an article published in the Canadian Medical Association’s journal, Open, in Ontario, “[those experiencing homelessness] were 20 times more likely than the general population to be hospitalized from COVID-19; 10 times more likely to wind up in intensive care, and five times more likely to die within 21 days of testing positive.

Our participants, those that are unhoused, are at higher risk than the average population of serious outcomes from COVID, and because they live together in shelters, the chance of spread is way higher.

Niagara Public Health is working with the Region’s homelessness services and medical professionals from Regional Essential Access to Connected Healthcare (REACH) Niagara.

Jordan Cherbonneau was one of the approximately 40 to 50 people to receive their shot at the church. Battling homelessness this past year, Cherbonneau said he’s been staying at shelters, and now he’s at a treatment centre working on his life.

Planning for the vaccine clinics began in January. Still, Stobbe said administering the flu shot last fall also helped prepare REACH and the Region for the COVID clinics.

Jugley also gave credit to those who organize the shelters in providing the homeless with a place to stay and for assisting with the vaccine clinics.

“I thought (the vaccine) was something to go and get as I’m going to be in a high-risk situation,” Jordan Cherbonneau said. His advice to people on the fence about the vaccine was to understand that it is about saving other’s lives and your own. “Having the vaccine doesn’t stop me from spreading it to you, so I still have to wear a mask and everything else, but if more of us get vaccinated, then slowly, this situation is going to ease.”

Making Progress

According to Niagara Region’s public health website, a total of 14,432 doses have been administered since the beginning of immunization. 100% of long-term care homes have been covered with the necessary two doses. 1,546 from the Indigenous community have received their first dose. Up-to-date information about the vaccine roll out for our Region can be found here:

Based on reporting by Satbir Singh of Niagara This Week & The Toronto Star and Jeremiah Rodriguez,CTV News.

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