How Nova Scotia plans to make sure those without a fixed address get a COVID-19 vaccine

·3 min read
The North End Community Health Centre estimates that 150 or 200 homeless people, still need to be vaccinated against Covid-19.  (Jon Cherry/Getty Images - image credit)
The North End Community Health Centre estimates that 150 or 200 homeless people, still need to be vaccinated against Covid-19. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images - image credit)

Hundreds of Nova Scotians living in shelters are already fully vaccinated — but it's a different story for people who are outside the system and may be living on the street.

A plan is underway to get COVID-19 vaccines to some of the most vulnerable in our society, according to health officials.

"The next phase is reaching those that are not in the shelter system so, for us, it's a huge priority," said Marie-France LeBlanc, executive director of the North End Community Health Centre.

The barrier of not having an address and trying to get a vaccine was recently identified by former Dartmouth mayor and councillor, Gloria McCluskey.

McCluskey tried to book an appointment for a man who does yardwork for her and sleeps in his car.

Gloria McCluskey was, at first, unable to book a vaccine appointment for a man who sleeps in his car without an address.
Gloria McCluskey was, at first, unable to book a vaccine appointment for a man who sleeps in his car without an address.(Steve Lawrence/CBC)

She said she was told she needed an address when she tried to book the appointment over the phone — and so took to social media to share her frustration.

"I couldn't believe they couldn't do that over the phone," McCluskey explained. "I said, 'What about all the people who are on the street?' There are many people on the street who don't live in homeless shelters."

McCluskey followed up with a call to 811; the person she spoke with recommended she try booking online using her own address. She did and managed to get an appointment for the man next month.

The North End Community Health Centre's Mobile Outreach Street Health (MOSH) team is working with public health officials to figure out how to best get the vaccine to people in similar situations as the man McCluskey helped.

Public health is also working with community organizations in Sydney to make vaccination appointments accessible to those outside the shelter system in Cape Breton, Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer said Tuesday.

Clients at Metro Turning Point were sent to hotels earlier this month after a positive COVID-19 case was found through asymptomatic testing.
Clients at Metro Turning Point were sent to hotels earlier this month after a positive COVID-19 case was found through asymptomatic testing.(CBC)

About 300 people have already gotten both their shots at clinics held at Halifax homeless shelters, which means they're fully vaccinated.

According to LeBlanc, that means about 150 to 200 people who are living outside the shelter system still need to be vaccinated based on initial projections.

"It's important for people experiencing homelessness to be vaccinated because social distancing is much more difficult for them to do, considering the living conditions that they're in," LeBlanc said.

Shelter to reopen after outbreak

Residents of Metro Turning Point on Barrington Street were moved to a hotel earlier this month after one person tested positive for COVID-19.

The shelter is due to reopen tomorrow.

The Out of the Cold shelter has posted on social media that it is now closed to the public for two weeks after what it calls a positive exposure.

LeBlanc said there may need to be a variety of solutions to ensure that everyone outside of the shelter system can get their shot.

While the MOSH team's van is equipped to do testing, administering vaccines is another complication, in part due to the fact that vaccines need to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures.

"The logistics of it aren't simple," said LeBlanc. "Our van doesn't have that deep refrigeration, but is there another way of doing it? That's what we're trying to figure out."

LeBlanc said more pop-up clinics are an option, in addition to using the MOSH van, as well as the possibility of offering shots at the organization's Gottingen Street location.

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