Homeless Americans finally getting a chance at COVID-19 shot

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FILE - In this Feb. 3, 2021, file photo, EMT Rachel Bryant, right, administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a homeless man in the courtyard of the Midnight Mission in Los Angeles. Homeless Americans who have been left off priority lists for coronavirus vaccinations or even bumped aside as states shifted eligibility to older age groups are finally getting their shots as vaccine supplies increase. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Homeless Americans who have been left off priority lists for coronavirus vaccinations — or even bumped aside as states shifted eligibility to older age groups — are finally getting their shots as vaccine supplies increase.

While the U.S. government has only incomplete data on infections among homeless people, it’s clear that crowded, unsanitary conditions at shelters and underlying poor health increase the danger of COVID-19 infections, severe complications and death.

COVID-19 outbreaks have been documented at homeless shelters in cities such as Boston, San Francisco and Seattle. Vaccinating in vulnerable areas will be a key to achieving herd immunity, the goal of building a barrier of protected people to stop uncontrolled spread.

“It was important for me to protect myself and the health and welfare of others,” said Cidney Oliver, 39, who got her first dose of Moderna vaccine April 7 at the Seattle YWCA shelter where she sleeps.

Wanona Thibodeaux-Lee, 43, has lived in several Seattle shelters while trying to get back on her feet, most recently at WHEEL, a 26-bed women’s shelter in a church basement. On April 5, she received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“I feel like I can move around without anyone getting me sick,” she said. “It’s good to know that I don’t have to go back for a second one.”

The single-shot vaccine is preferred by many clinics who serve homeless people and by homeless people themselves, said Bobby Watts, CEO of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council.

The U.S. government on Tuesday recommended a “pause” in using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to investigate reports of rare but potentially dangerous blood clots. It is a temporary setback in the drive to vaccinate homeless people, forcing organizers this week to switch to other vaccines or postpone events.