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

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday that the province may consider a regional approach to loosening COVID-19 restrictions if numbers continue to decline. (photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Province further easing health restrictions

Numbers of people hospitalized and in intensive care has dropped dramatically, says premier

Eric Rajah, co-founder of A Better World. (Photo Submitted)
Two Lacombe residents recieve award from Governor General for chairty work

Eric Rajah and Brian Leavitt co-founded A Better World, a charity which started in Lacombe in 1990

Kjeryn Dakin, owner of Bukz, Bukwildz and Doe(s) Pizza on Lakeshore Drive, has been nominated for the Women Entrepreneur of Distinction award by the Alberta Chamber of Commerce. (Photo by Megan Roth/Sylvan Lake News)
Sylvan Lake business woman nominated for provincial and national award

Kjeryn Dakin is nominated for two female entrepreneur awards on a provincial and national scale

File photo
Alberta’s central zone has 670 active cases

301 new cases identified Sunday

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer reports 25th COVID-19 death

415 new cases identified provincially Saturday

A ” Justice for Jeff” T-shirt. (Photo submitted)
Rally to be held outside Red Deer courthouse for slain Ponoka man

Sentencing for accused charged with manslaughter with a firearm set for March 4

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Time to check the mail: Every household to receive a Canada Post postcard this spring

Postcard can be mailed for free to any address in Canada

A cross-country skier glides along the banks of the Ottawa River in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Canadians across the country can look forward to a mild spring peppered with the odd winter flashback throughout the first part of the season, according to predictions from one prominent national forecaster. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Mild spring with some wintry blasts predicted for most of Canada: Weather Network

Weather Network is forecasting a slower than average start to spring in British Columbia

AstraZeneca’s vaccines are ready for use at the vaccination center in Apolda, Germany, Sunday, Feb.28, 2021. (Michael Reichel/dpa via AP)
Feds hoping for AstraZeneca shots this week as Pfizer-BioNTech prepare next delivery

The first of those doses could start to arrive in Canada as early as Wednesday

People line up outside a vaccine clinic as seniors wait to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Edmonton Alta, on Friday February 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Health Services head sorry for glitches in vaccine booking system for seniors

AHS president said technical issues have been fixed and a virtual waiting room is in place

Vandalism is shown on Alberta NDP MLA Janis Irwin’s constituency office in Edmonton in this handout photo on Saturday, February 27, 2021. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney quickly condemned vandalism at an Opposition legislature member Janis Irwin’s Edmonton office after the MLA posted pictures showing her front window spray-painted with the words “Antifa Liar.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Janis Irwin *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Alberta Premier slams vandalism after slur painted on MLA’s office window

Edmonton MLA Janis Irwin posted pictures showing the front window spray-painted with the words ‘Antifa Liar’

A helicopter flies past a mountain near McBride, B.C., on Saturday January 30, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Avalanche warning for backcountry users in North and South Rockies

Avalanche Canada is urging backcountry users to always check their regional avalanche forecasts

Most Read