Nova Scotia

Mobile clinics to administer COVID-19 vaccines at Halifax homeless shelters in April

Mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics will head to Halifax homeless shelters next month, which advocates say is a key strategy to meet vulnerable people wherever they are. The mobile clinics will target about 900 people who use, work or volunteer at these shelters.

Clinics aim to immunize 900 people who use, work or volunteer at shelters

The Metro Turning Point shelter in downtown Halifax. The province is rolling out mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics at seven shelters across the Halifax area in early April. (CBC)

Mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics will head to Halifax homeless shelters next month, which advocates say is a key strategy to meet vulnerable people wherever they are.

Jeff Karabanow, one of the founders of Out of the Cold Emergency Shelter and a professor at Dalhousie University, said since this population often has higher rates of illness or health risks, it's especially important to ensure they're vaccinated quickly.

"They are much more vulnerable, marginalized groups that we need to take heed and, you know, move urgently and critically to support," he said.

The province announced the project on Tuesday as part of Nova Scotia's second phase of the vaccine rollout. In an email, a provincial spokesperson said the vaccine used in the shelter clinics will be either Pfizer or Moderna.

They will start with seven Halifax shelters in early April. Public health staff will work in the clinics alongside the Mobile Outreach Street Health (MOSH) team at the North End Community Health Centre.

Jeff Karabanow is a social work professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax. He called Tuesday's announcement 'really good news.' (Submitted by Jeff Karabanow)

The mobile clinics will target about 900 people who use, work or volunteer at these shelters.

Karabanow said he and his colleagues have been pushing for this approach for some time. 

Although the federal vaccine guidelines suggest including shelter populations in phase two, and Nova Scotia's own plan does as well, Karabanow said he hadn't heard anything about when this rollout would begin.

Partnering with the MOSH team is the ideal model, Karabanow said, since they already have a very good connection with the shelter system and people who are homeless in the city.

The number of people who are chronically homeless in Halifax has more than doubled in the last year.

According to the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, there were 477 people who were homeless in the city as of November 2020. Of those people, 375 were considered chronically homeless, meaning they've been without suitable housing for six months or longer.

It's also very important that shelter staff and volunteers are being included in the program as well, Karabanow said, since they've been on the front lines providing "significant care" for the past year in the pandemic.

A nurse administers a COVID-19 vaccination to a homeless person at Wayside Christian Mission on March 15, 2021, in Louisville, Ky. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

Eric Jonsson works with homeless people as the program co-ordinator with Navigator Street Outreach in Halifax. He said he was glad to see the province partner with MOSH, saying the organization has spent years working closely with people experiencing homelessness.

"I think it's a great model," he said.

He said it's important these citizens get vaccinated quickly because not only are many immunocompromised, they also visit various locations in a day and see a lot of people, making them more vulnerable to catching the coronavirus. 

Any time that systems recognize that people who are homeless are not "just an afterthought" is a good thing, Jonsson said.

While Jonsson noted that creating more affordable housing is the ideal way to support people who are homeless, it's good to see that vaccinations are also a priority.

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, said in a news release that this is an "important milestone" in the province's vaccine efforts.

Public health will then make sure everyone gets their second vaccine dose within four months.

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