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

Amanda Parsons, a registered nurse on staff at the Northwood Care facility, prepares a dose of the Moderna vaccine in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Almost two in three Canadians surveyed recently said they trust COVID-19 vaccines to be both safe and effective. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Northern Health to open 30 COVID vaccine clinics for oldest residents, Indigenous seniors

Health authority says it plans to vaccinate nearly 15,000 people in Phase Two

(899 Vanderhoof Air Cadets/Facebook)
Vanderhoof Air Cadets to hold fundraising raffle this summer

Winners will be announced in May this year

Artemis Gold is taking a different approach with the Blackwater Project. The company will be working in three phases. The average gold production at Blackwater will be 248,000 ounces in Phase 1, 420,000 ounces in Phase 2 and 316,000 ounces in Phase 3. (Submitted image)
Artemis Gold provides update on Blackwater Gold Project

Ore grade control drilling, metallurgical test work and more being conducted

NDIT logo.
NDIT grants over $160K to Vanderhoof for street lighting project on Burrard

Total cost of the project is approximately $380,000

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
‘It’s been a good week’: Tam hopeful on vaccines as pandemic anniversary nears

Tam says the addition of two new vaccines will help Canadians get immunized faster

(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

Pictures and notes in from friends and classmates make up a memorial in support and memory of Aubrey Berry, 4, and her sister Chloe, 6, during a vigil held at Willows Beach in Oak Bay, B.C., on December 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Mother of slain daughters supports recent changes to Canada’s Divorce Act

Sarah Cotton-Elliott said she believed her children took a back seat to arranging equal parenting

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Ex-B.C. teacher who was CFL kicker charged with assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

During a press event on March 6, Const. Alex Berube, media relations officer for the West Shore RCMP, addressed a deadly shooting that occurred in Metchosin the night before. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
VIDEO: One man shot dead on Vancouver Island in ‘targeted incident’

Highway 14 reopens following multi-hour closure for investigation

Most Read