The Daily Planet Health Services has administered 3,800 COVID-19 vaccine doses to date to people experiencing homelessness and those who work closely with them, according to new data released this month.
The figure stems from a push the safety-net health care provider and Homeward, the region’s coordinating agency for homeless services, initiated in January to ensure the most vulnerable residents have access to the lifesaving shots. The Daily Planet has staffed pop-up vaccine events at more than a dozen emergency shelter sites around the region since then.
Both shelter staff and shelter guests were prioritized for the vaccine in Virginia, due to a greater risk of contracting the virus. Cramped conditions, pre-existing health conditions and a lack of access to health care combine to make COVID-19 especially dangerous to people who are homeless.
“Given the transiency of people experiencing homelessness, which oftentimes includes shared spaces in close proximity to others, it’s been essential to vaccinate these populations,” stated Stephanie Cuttino, the Daily Planet’s clinical operations director, in a release.
“We are pleased by the community partnerships that have been strengthened over the past year, and are looking forward to continuing these efforts until every person experiencing homelessness has received a vaccine.”
While people experiencing homelessness were more at risk for the virus, the National Health Care for the Homeless Council warned some may also harbor suspicion of it due to past negative experiences with the health care system or mistrust of providers in general.
Skepticism of the shots was an obstacle at first, said Dr. Patricia Cook, the Daily Planet’s chief medical officer. But she has seen that sentiment dissipate somewhat as her team has returned to particular sites to administer second doses.
“In the first couple of events, we got an awful lot of ‘nos,’ but going back for the second event at the same site, we’d get people wanting their first dose,” Cook said. “As people see more of their peers get a dose and do OK, they feel more confident about the vaccine.”
Even with the progress they’ve made so far with vaccines, there is still cause for concern, she added.
After registering five straight weeks of declining positive cases, the Daily Planet saw an increase in cases and positivity rate among its clients last week, particularly among young people, she said. “It’s frightening.”
The uptick comes as the region has seen a rise in positive cases and the positivity rate over the past 14 days, according to data made available through the Virginia Department of Health.