By Samantha York, CBS 21-WHP-TV .
As Pennsylvania enters the 1C phase of its vaccination rollout and prepares for all adults to become eligible to get vaccinated next week, it’s also prioritizing getting equal access to homeless communities.
“Our staff, they need to be on the frontlines helping people,” says Bethesda Mission Executive Director Scott Dunwoody. “Vaccines have been made available to our staff and we’re soon hoping vaccines will be made available to guests as well. That will be a game changer.”
The initiative to vaccinate homeless communities is underway as eligibility expands and vaccine supply stabilizes.
“We haven’t been hindered by supply, it’s really been a significant coordination effort,” says President and CEO of Family First Health Jenny Englerth, explaining her staff’s planning to match supply with people who need the vaccine most.
With frontline workers at homeless shelters and their guests falling under the 1B phase within the state, the vaccine is another layer of protection. Providers specifically recommending Johnson & Johnson doses be allotted to them.
“Being able to reconnect in 21-28 days could be a challenge,” Englerth explains. “These folks are going to leave these events in the coming week fully vaccinated.”
It’s protection for those among the most vulnerable, who travel often and are in group settings frequently.
“They may have instability in other areas of their health or wellbeing as well,” says Englerth. “They may be in a situation where they’re accessing multiple services, working multiple jobs.”
It’s a shot of relief for homeless shelters, after a year of turning some away to meet capacity limitations due to pandemic mitigations.
“That’s against our DNA,” says Dunwoody. “Our DNA at Bethesda says if you are in need of help, we’ll provide the help for you. But we had to think of the safety of our guests and staff.”