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

Aquaculture employee, Michelle Franze, poses with a comment that she received on social media. Facebook group Women in Canadian Salmon Farming started an online campaign #enoughisenough to highlight the harassment they were facing online after debates about Discovery Islands fish farms intensified on social media. (Submitted photo)
Women in salmon farming should be celebrated, not bullied

Since mid-December, salmon farming has been one of the leading topics in… Continue reading

An Island Health nurse prepares a dose of COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo courtesy Island Health)
Health authority opening 19 clinics to immunize Vancouver Island residents

Health authority anticipates more than 40,000 people will be immunized over the next month

The platanthera dilatata is the fragrant white bog orchid whose perfume on a hot August day is one of the unforgettable delights of a summer hike in Strathcona Park. Photo supplied
Strathcona Wilderness Institute AGM upcoming

The Strathcona Wilderness Institute (SWI) will hold its 2021 annual general meeting… Continue reading

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Montreal Canadiens right wing Paul Byron (41) fights for control of the puck with Vancouver Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes (43) during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Monday, March 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Captain Clutch: Horvat nets shootout winner as Canucks edge Habs 2-1

Vancouver, Montreal tangle again on Wednesday

A special committee has been appointed to look at reforming B.C.’s police act and is inviting the public to make submissions until April 30, 2021. (Black Press media file)
Have thoughts on B.C.’s review of the provincial Police Act?

Submissions will be accepted until April 30

Cottonwoods Care Home in Kelowna. (Google Maps)
New COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna care home includes fully vaccinated seniors: Henry

Two staff and 10 residents tested positive at Cottonwoods Care Centre

Excerpts from a conversation between Bria Fisher and the fake truLOCAL job. Fisher had signed a job agreement and was prepared to start work for what she thought was truLOCAL before she learned it was a scam. (Contributed)
B.C. woman warning others after losing $3,000 in job scam

Bria Fisher was hired by what she thought was a Canadian company, only to be out thousands

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix provide a regular update on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, March 2, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 cases: 545 Saturday, 532 Sunday, 385 Monday

Focus on Prince Rupert, Lower Mainland large workplaces

Rising accident rates and payout costs have contributed to billion-dollar deficits at ICBC. (Comox Valley Record)
B.C. appealing decision keeping ICBC injury cases in court

David Eby vows to ‘clip wings’ of personal injury lawyers

Most Read