Vaccinating the homeless in Charlotte County

Reporter: Nicole Lauren Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:
A homeless camp. Credit: WINK News

To better protect all of us, homeless people will start receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. But vaccinating those of us who live on the streets comes with challenges.

The Florida Department of Health has already been administering some shots to homeless people. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine been a game-changer in this effort, because it’s a one-dose shot: If a person moves to a different location, health care workers don’t have to worry about tracking them down.

Dr. Joseph Pepe, director of the FDOH-Charlotte County, says getting the homeless vaccinated is crucial to slowing the virus’ spread.

“With the homeless population, they move from location to location,” Pepe said. “Sometimes you’re living in tents and things like that, so you really don’t know exactly where they’re at every time. So it’s really important to be able to vaccinate them and provide some protection.”

Pepe says the department is applying lessons learned from the hepatitis A outbreak, among other past outbreaks. One of the biggest fears the Homeless Coalition of Charlotte County has is that of an outbreak. The Port Charlotte shelter says on most days they have 52 people living under one roof together, making it extremely easy to spread the coronavirus.

“If we have an outbreak, it’s very similar to an assisted living outbreak,” said Tina Figliulo, CEO of the Homeless Coalition. “That can spread quite quickly… differently than you or I going back to our own homes, because of the amount of people congregating.”

The Homeless Coalition says, whether they are under a roof or living on the streets, many of the homeless people they take in are vulnerable and may have underlying conditions they don’t even know of. She says it’s important to keep them and the general public safe, and that means getting them the shot.

Pepe and the FDOH-Charlotte agree, and they are now working to set up a clinic.

“Remember, with the homeless population, they are highly vulnerable,” Pepe said. “They are probably less likely to seek care. And really vulnerable to be infected with COVID[-19] and potentially spreading COVID[-19], so vaccinating that group of individuals is really important to us.”

We don’t know exactly when the clinic is going to take place, but since Gov. Ron DeSantis has opened up the eligible age groups, it means a large portion of those living in shelters can now get vaccinated.

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