Vaccines are an important tool to protect people experiencing homelessness from COVID-19, but public health and homeless assistance systems face substantial barriers to reaching this group. Although many people enduring homelessness may meet other criteria given their age or underlying health conditions, they are generally not well connected to the health care system and face substantial challenges accessing the vaccine. And vaccine administration takes time—time to share information about the vaccine, administer the first dose, and plan for the second dose. Providing appropriate follow-up and care is even more challenging because people may move around or lack a safe space to store their vaccine card, or they may become disconnected from the shelter or service provider storing it for them.
Local health departments and homeless service systems will need to work closely together to ensure their vaccine efforts are effective in reaching people experiencing homelessness.
Service providers have experience with vaccines through efforts to inoculate people annually against the flu and to prevent outbreaks of diseases such as hepatitis A. Communities can take steps to increase vaccine uptake among people experiencing homelessness, described in recent guidance from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Key lessons include the following:
- Involve and uplift people experiencing homelessness in planning and distribution.
- Focus on racial equity and track uptake.
- Plan for a varied distribution approach.
- Invest in short- and long-term health supports.
- Do not use vaccination status as a barrier to services.
Read the full article about COVID-19 vaccines and the homeless population by Nicole DuBois and Alyse D. Oneto at Urban Institute.
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