Mobile team to offer COVID-19 vaccines at encampments in Edmonton

A mobile health team will offer COVID-19 vaccines to Edmontonians living in encampments starting next week.

'This isn't something we typically do as a health service organization'

Boyle McCauley Health Centre staff will take their mobile clinic on the road beginning this month to offer COVID-19 vaccine to Edmontonians who are sleeping rough and living in encampments. (Boyle McCauley Health Centre)

A mobile health team will offer COVID-19 vaccines to people living in encampments in Edmonton, starting next week.

Boyle McCauley Health Centre staff are partnering with outreach workers from the Bissell Centre to connect with homeless and vulnerable people who may not have had a first dose of vaccine.

"This isn't something we typically do as a health service organization, but we're going to partner with them and go around to the encampments, and offer vaccine to individuals that might be interested and provide some education and hopefully be able to increase the uptake in vaccine in this population," said Tricia Smith, the health centre's executive director.

Tricia Smith is the executive director of Boyle McCauley Health Centre. (Boyle McCauley Health Centre)

The health centre started offering the vaccine to clients who were eligible at its clinic in central Edmonton in late March, and then started doing pop-up clinics at shelters across the city in April. 

Smith said more than 1,500 doses have been provided to date, and that Alberta Health Services has worked closely with the health centre to provide as much vaccine as needed.

Vaccines on the go

Smith said the health-care team is made up mostly of licensed practical nurses.

The nurses will use the health centre's mobile clinic — a van outfitted with a refrigerator and other supplies — as a base. 

It's a different approach than even a pop-up clinic, and poses more logistical challenges.

"We don't know how many people we're going to encounter, and we don't really know where we're going until we get there," Smith said.

The nurses will administer Pfizer vaccine, and though its storage guidelines were recently updated allowing for it to be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures for longer without expiring, it's still finicky.

"The vaccine itself is very sensitive, so we have to make sure that we are abiding by all of those handling protocols to make sure that the vaccine stays active," Smith said.

She said the plan is to keep offering vaccine as long as there is demand, and that they'll do it all again when it's time for second doses.

She said that while some of the people the team expects to encounter in the encampments are already clients of the health centre, having help from Bissell, which does more engagement in encampments, will be helpful.

"We're really hoping that that collaboration will help up with the engagement with the clients because they're going to see familiar faces."