British Columbia

Vancouver health authority rolls out COVID-19 vaccine on Downtown Eastside

Vancouver Coastal Health has started offering COVID-19 vaccines for vulnerable residents on the Downtown Eastside as part of Phase 2 of its immunization plan. 

Union Gospel Mission says 'it felt like Christmas' to some of the vulnerable residents in the neighbourhood

Vulnerable residents of the Downtown Eastside were encouraged to get a COVID-19 vaccine this weekend. (Cory Correia/CBC)

Vancouver Coastal Health has started offering COVID-19 vaccines for vulnerable residents on the Downtown Eastside as part of Phase 2 of its immunization plan. 

The vaccine clinics started Friday at four locations — the Carnegie Centre, the Downtown Community Health Centre, Union Gospel Mission and the Pender Community Health Centre — and were available to those who are homeless, or residents of shelters, single room occupancy hotels or supported housing. 

Trey Helten, manager with the Overdose Prevention Society, said Vancouver Coastal Health was prioritizing Downtown Eastside residents because many of them have serious health conditions. 

"They're not able to self isolate, so they're incredibly vulnerable and incredibly at risk, so it's really important that Vancouver Coastal Health prioritizes this neighbourhood so we don't overburden our hospitals," Helten said.

A few people were hesitant about getting the vaccine, Helten said, but most people were getting to the clinics right away. 

"We're encouraging as many people as we can to get up there," he said. 

On Saturday there were long lineups at the Carnegie Centre. The Union Gospel Mission said almost 200 people who are homeless or living in shelters were able to get a vaccine at their building. 

"People were just incredibly relieved and happy generally to be getting this vaccine," said spokesperson Jeremy Hunka.

"One person told us it felt like Christmas."

Hunka said the pandemic has been especially hard on people who are experiencing homelessness or poverty.

On Friday, Dr. Bonnie Henry said there has been transmission in some homeless shelters in the Fraser Health region, as well as on the Downtown Eastside. 

"We know that people in those situations are much more likely to get severe illness, end up in hospital. So we are doing some targeted immunization in those communities," Dr. Henry said. 

According to the province's website, "vulnerable populations living and working in select congregated settings" are included in Phase 2 of B.C.'s immunization plan

With files from Cory Correia

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