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Mobile Clinics Bring COVID-19 Vaccines To Vermonters Experiencing Homelessness

A person in t-shirt draws a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Liam Elder-Connors
Anna Lisa Reynolds, a nurse at CHCB, preparing COVID-19 vaccines during a clinic at the COTS daystation in Burlington.

More than 300,000 Vermonters are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The state has one of the highest rates in the country, with nearly 77% of eligible residents having received at least one dose. But getting a vaccine is not an easy take for everyone. For hundreds of Vermonters experiencing homelessness, scheduling the shot and getting to the appointments is difficult. Some are wary of getting inoculated. That’s why the health department has partnered with community groups around the state to help deliver vaccines to housing insecure populations.

In Chittenden County, a team from the Community Health Centers of Burlington is working to distribute the vaccine. On a recent Thursday, Anna Lisa Reynolds and her colleagues pulled up to the COTS daystation in CHCB’s outreach van.

More from VPR: Nonprofits Collaborate With State To Help Homeless Population During Pandemic

Reynolds, a nurse at CHCB, walked into the shelter and set down a cooler full of COVID-19 vaccines. “Why don’t we do vaccines at that table and maybe check ins right here,” she said, gesturing to several round tables.

Reynolds and her two colleagues arrived around lunch time. They were there to give nine people their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. They also had a supply of the one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine for walk-in appointments.

CHCB runs Vermont’s only homeless health program — which provides medical services like primary care at no cost. Reynolds says already having relationships with the community helps her get more people vaccinated.

“Whenever you're working with a community that has been disenfranchised or taken advantage of, passed to the side, that trust is paramount if you want people to have good health goals,” Reynolds said.

A black sandwich board with neon paint and a Spectrum logo advertises COVID-19 vaccines in a brick courtyard.
Credit Liam Elder-Connors / VPR
VPR File
A sign advertises a COVID-19 vaccine clinic.

CHCB is also bringing the vaccine to people. In addition to the daystation, Reynolds and her team go to motels where the state has housed people during the pandemic.

COTS executive director Rita Markley says the mobile clinic is critical, especially for people without access to cars.

“If they had to get on the bus to go to Essex Junction or one of the pop-up sites, for us, we have 130 people staying at the Quality Inn and we've got 50 over at the Days Inn — managing that would just be impossible,” Markley said. “So this is fantastic.”

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People start to trickle in slowly for their shot. Most are here for a second dose, but there are some walk-ins.

Reynolds explained to one woman who walked in looking for a vaccine, that the Johnson and Johnson vaccine only requires one dose: “It's just one," she said. "We get the one vaccine today and then you will be good, which is the perk of this one versus the other ones — you want to take a seat?”

Another person, a 24-year old who didn’t want to be named, arrived for his second shot. He found out about the clinic through Spectrum, an organization that helps at-risk youth and young people experiencing homelessness.

He said the clinic made it easy for him to get the shot, and that's important.

“Especially for like kids that, or people that are just, like, struggling to just, like, get their daily lives, just like, to get out of bed can be hard, to make an appointment to get a COVID shot," he said. "And they made it really easy."

More from VPR: J&J Vaccine Pause Puts Vermonters Without Housing In Limbo

As the clinic started to wind down, Reynolds called another shelter manager to see if they had anyone who wanted a shot. She says she’s determined not to let any vaccine go to waste.

“At the end of the day, if I have, like, three doses of Johnson and Johnson left, like, I'm hunting people down, and I'm calling different case managers and calling different hotels, to figure out who's where,” she said.

Reynolds says they’ve vaccinated close to 200 people in the homeless community so far — and they haven’t had to throw out a single dose.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Liam Elder-Connors @lseconnors

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Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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