Lane Hawkes, emergency room nurse, receives a Covid vaccine at Salem Hospital on Dec. 17 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)
This story has been updated with more survey responses.
Salem Health set aside 200 doses of the Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine for unsheltered people temporarily living at the Oregon State Fairgrounds Pavilion.
During a one-day vaccination event Tuesday, there were five takers.
Homeless service providers aren’t surprised. On Monday, The ARCHES Project conducted a survey about vaccine interest.
Of 95 people who responded, only 35% said they would be interested in receiving the vaccine, said Ashley Hamilton, program manager.
Many said they believed the vaccine to be unhealthy or dangerous. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have said the vaccines are safe and highly effective. Most reported side effects are mild.
People experiencing homelessness became eligible for the vaccine March 22 in Marion and Polk counties, along with adults 45 and older with underlying health conditions and pregnant people, among others.
Hamilton said given the utilization rate of the flu shot, which ARCHES hosts annual vaccination events for, she suspected there would be a fair amount of reluctance getting the Covid vaccine.
She said people can find the process triggering, and for those who are looking for basic necessities like food and shelter on a daily basis, “The farthest thing from your mind is an inoculation protecting you from an invisible disease.”
But Hamilton said a powerful tool will be word of mouth.
She said even if 10 to 15 people get vaccinated to start, getting others on board will be more effective with what Hamilton coined “vaccine ambassadors.”
Her outreach teams are working on vaccine education ahead of events at the day center and one in Wallace Marine Park in coordination with Salem Health.
But early survey results show many will be steadfast in refusing the vaccine with all saying more education wouldn’t change their mind.
Stephen Goins, director of transitional programs at Northwest Human Services, said the medical clinic recently got doses of the vaccine and is planning for how it will roll it out to its patients.
He said administering the vaccine to those who are unsheltered, who may have distrust for the system and care providers, will present an additional challenge.
“I think tactfully we need to think about: how do you market the vaccine?” Goins said.
Both Goins and Hamilton said they have received flyers from the Oregon Health Authority they plan to hand out which explain the vaccine.
But Goins pointed out Covid hasn’t impacted Salem’s unsheltered the way many providers feared at the start of the pandemic, because people have been spread outside in camps rather than congregating in shelters where outbreaks have been more common. He said providers will be tasked with convincing people to vaccinate themselves against something that hasn’t largely impacted them.
A mobile vaccine clinic takes place at The ARCHES Project, located at 615 Commercial St. N.E., at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
Another will be held at Wallace Marine Park on April 8.
If unsheltered people experience a reaction from the vaccine, they’ll be placed in a motel, Hamilton said.
Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected]
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