Nearly 100 people staying at the Roanoke Rescue Mission were able to start the COVID-19 vaccination process Wednesday, extending protection to one of the region’s most vulnerable populations.
The Rescue Mission and other homeless shelters became eligible for the vaccine with the launch of Phase 1b last month.
Susan Matthews, who came to the mission last summer to get back on her feet, said Wednesday’s vaccination clinic was a moment she’d been looking forward to.
“I feel relieved,” said Matthews, 62. “I feel like I am doing my duty as a citizen.”
The vaccination clinic, organized by the health department, marked the first targeted event offered for people without housing in the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts.
New Horizons Healthcare also has been allocated doses to administer to its unhoused clients, officials said. Outreach to the homeless will continue and expand as the vaccine rollout goes on.
Such work is key to ensuring that there is equity in how the shots are being distributed, said Dr. Cynthia Morrow, district health director.
“‘Health equity’ means that we are intentional in our efforts to assure our residents have access to the vaccine, no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they have,” Morrow said in a written statement.
Those without permanent housing often get services in shelters or other group settings where social distancing is difficult, she noted. “Additionally, many people who are homeless are older adults or have underlying medical conditions, placing them at increased risk for severe illness.”
Wednesday’s clinic was offered on-site at the Rescue Mission, the region’s largest shelter, in recognition of the difficulty clients could have faced if required to find a way to get to one of the health district’s large, centralized vaccine sites.
Future strategies for services could include more targeted clinics or organizing transportation to the centralized sites, officials said.
The Rescue Mission clinic on Wednesday offered its clients the first of two vaccine doses that will be given. The shelter said about 100 people got their first shot.
Fred Calloway, who has diabetes and other underlying conditions that put him at high risk, said he was glad to be starting the vaccination process.
“I guess I can live a little longer,” said the 57-year-old. “It helps to have it.”
Staff photographer Heather Rousseau contributed information to this report.