Workers and residents in Hamilton’s shelter system are being vaccinated across the city in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.
After months of persistent outbreaks, Hamilton Public Health Service’s mobile clinic started vaccinating people in shelters on Saturday in collaboration with the Shelter Health Network and shelter staff.
Dr. Kerry Beal, the lead physician at Shelter Health Network, had been administering doses of the Pfizer vaccine into people’s arms throughout the weekend.
“We’ve been fighting so hard for so long to get our guys vaccinated that to be actually doing it is thrilling,” she said.
Staff were able to register last week, she said, with the idea being that they would go to one of the larger vaccination sites in the city. Clients would be vaccinated in the shelters.
If there are a few vaccines still left at the end of the day, Beal said, then the healthcare workers vaccinate staff available before they leave, “because we’re not wasting doses.”
The doctor is responsible for all of the testing swabs at the shelters, and says the hope is that the vaccine will cut down on the “sheer amount of positives” she sees.
While shelters have experienced outbreaks since the start of the pandemic, they’ve taken a significant hit in the new year. There are ongoing outbreaks at the Salvation Army, Wesley Urban Ministries Day Centre, YWCA Carole Anne’s Place, and several Missions Services and Good Shephard locations.
Anyone who is symptomatic at shelters, staff and clients, are tested. Additional surveillance testing is organized by Dr. Tim O’Shea, who works with the network, and processed by St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.
“Every time I turned around, I was getting another 10 positive swabs,” Beal said of the Salvation Army outbreak, which is up to 50 cases as of Monday.
Beal said Shelter Health Network ran three town halls to answer staff member questions about the vaccine. She thinks some people who were “sitting on the fence” left the meetings more convinced to get one.
She estimates about 50 per cent of the clients at each shelter are getting vaccinated, which is what they anticipated.
Catch-up opportunities this week
Those in shelters, Beal said, are being prioritized since the virus spreads “very, very quickly” in congregate settings. She stressed that this can in turn cause spread throughout the general public.
This is especially concerning, she said, as the number of variant cases in the city climbs.
“If you can knock down the number of positives, then you knock down the virus,” Beal said.
There haven’t been any COVID-19 cases that were screened or confirmed as a variant linked to the current shelter outbreaks, according to the city’s database.
Arrangements for vaccinations are made directly with the shelters. Registration for shelter workers opened last week, and is available through the community healthcare worker portal online.
Vaccines will be administered to March 2, she said, but other “mopping up” sessions will be set up to catch people who may have been missed, and others who may feel more comfortable as the week goes on.
Second doses will be administered in three weeks.