A man chats with a homeless person at a small tent city on Ste-Catherine Street on Jan. 27, 2021, in downtown Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

A man chats with a homeless person at a small tent city on Ste-Catherine Street on Jan. 27, 2021, in downtown Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

‘Raising the alarm:’ Priority vaccines urged for homeless population, shelter staff

Advocates say the most vulnerable groups need vaccine earlier

Advocates say homeless people should get priority to COVID-19 vaccines given how at risk they are to the virus and how much more likely they are to get severely ill if infected.

“We as a society set the moral tone by who we provide supports for and who we prioritize,” says a position statement released Wednesday by two national groups who work with street populations.

“It’s imperative that we include the most vulnerable who can benefit most from the protection afforded by COVID vaccination.”

The groups cite research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal Open that found the homeless in Ontario were 20 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than the general public, 10 times more likely to end up in intensive care and five times more likely to die within 21 days of a diagnosis.

While vaccinations for the homeless population have begun in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, the groups are calling for an urgent, consistent Canada-wide effort.

Tim Richter, who heads the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, said congregate shelter settings and poorer overall health have been concerns since the beginning of the pandemic.

“On top of all of that, they can’t follow the public health guidelines that are known to protect people. They can’t go home and isolate, and hygiene is difficult, and access to health care is difficult,” he said.

“The second wave of the pandemic is having a really serious and damaging impact on people experiencing homelessness and people working in the sector.”

Dr. Monty Ghosh, who co-chairs the Canadian Network for the Health and Housing of People Experiencing Homelessness, said homeless people have higher rates of poorly controlled cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and chronic lung conditions.

“One of the big things that we do worry about with this population group is that they’re at higher risk of having bad outcomes from COVID because of underlying comorbidities.”

Ghosh said many have stopped using services such as mental health and addiction supports, or even avoided shelters because they’re afraid of catching COVID-19.

He acknowledged it may be tough to make sure homeless people show up for two vaccination appointments scheduled weeks apart.

“Developing a relationship of trust is key,” he said. “It can’t necessarily be public health, per se, who comes in and provides the shots, but rather nurses, physicians, providers who work with this group on a regular everyday basis — faces that the population is familiar with.”

READ MORE: B.C. plans for COVID-19 ‘mass vaccination’ by March

Shelter workers also need protection, the groups say. Richter said staffing has been an issue as employees experience burnout and fear of contracting the virus and spreading it to their families.

“You’ve got a sector that’s not designed to respond to a public health emergency responding to a public health emergency — and becoming very quickly overwhelmed trying to respond,” he said.

“It’s happening in the shadows where people aren’t watching or paying attention. We’re raising the alarm to make sure that public health authorities are paying attention to the issue.”

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirusvaccines

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Email jocelyn.doll@revelstokereview.com
LETTER: Revelstoke resident urges people to stay local

‘Please come back when the pandemic is over’

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
43 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

368 cases in the region remain active

A real estate sign is pictured in Vancouver, Tuesday, June, 12, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
Okanagan-Shuswap real estate market continues hot start to 2021

Sales in February were up more than 100 per cent over last year, reports the Association of Interior Realtors

John Hordyk said it isn’t fair to just look at COVID-19 deaths as many survivors are experiencing long-term impacts, himself included. (Photo by Rachel Muise)
Not getting better: Revelstoke man diagnosed with post-COVID-19 syndrome

‘I hope the damage isn’t long term, but it could be permanent’

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

Shuswap Search and Rescue volunteers were on Owlhead to retrieve a couple who called for help after one of their sleds became stuck on Tuesday, March 2, 2020. (Shuswap Search and Rescue/Facebook photo)
Shuswap Search and Rescue retrieve couple from Owlhead

Call for help made after sled became stuck

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon speaks in the B.C. legislature, describing work underway to make a small business and tourism aid package less restrictive, Dec. 10, 2020. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends deadline for tourism, small business COVID-19 grants

Business owners expect months more of lost revenues

Anti-pipeline protests continue in Greater Vancouver, with the latest happening Thursday, March 4 at a Trans Mountain construction site in Burnaby. (Facebook/Laurel Dykstra)
A dozen faith-based protestors blockade Burnaby Trans Mountain site in prayer

The group arrived early Thursday, planning to ‘block any further work’

Mid day at the Vancouver Port Intersection blockade on March 3, organized by the Braided Warriors. (Zoë Ducklow photo)
Anti-pipeline blockade at Vancouver intersection broken up by police

Demonstraters were demanding the release of a fellow anti-TMX protester

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The man currently being sought by Oliver RCMP in connection to an assault and robbery at the BC Cannabis Store in Oliver. If you know the identity of the man, the RCMP would like to know. (RCMP)
South Okanagan police looking for man accused in robbery and assault at pot shop

The man allegedly assaulted an employee at the BC Cannabis Store

(Government of B.C.)
Protesters stood outside the Vernon Courts Thursday, March 4, 2021, as a Curtis Wayne Sagmoen matter came before the courts once again. (Brendan Shykora - Vernon Morning Star)
UPDATE: Sagmoen to make plea in two weeks for cop assault charge

The offence allegedly took place on Oct. 29 in Spallumcheen

Most Read