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COVID vaccines in Downtown Eastside bring relief, excitement to most vulnerable: advocate

Citynews 1130 Vancouver
Syringes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine sit in a tray in a vaccination room at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Summary

Downtown Eastside advocate says the first shots given in the neighbourhood represent light at the end of the tunnel

About 200 people received a shot in the vaccination clinic hosted by the Union Gospel Mission

Those eligible includes: residents who are homeless, live in a shelter, an SRO or supportive housing

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — A Downtown Eastside advocate says the COVID-19 vaccine rollout at a local clinic last week was the light at the end of the tunnel after an incredibly brutal year for the unhoused battling the pandemic.

There have been close to 1,200 deaths due to COVID-19 in the province and immunizations against the virus are rolling out to the most vulnerable.

Jeremy Hunka with the Union Gospel Mission and says the vaccine clinic UGM hosted on Friday was the light at the end of the tunnel amidst a brutal year for the unhoused community in particular.

“It was really heartening for a lot of people. There was a lot of relief. There was a lot of excitement from our community who were able to get and be among the first people in Canada and British Columbia to get a COVID-19 vaccine,” he says.

Hunka says it’s important for people to know that for unhoused residents, those who live in a shelter, or an SRO —  it’s more likely they have pre-existing health conditions, so the risk is still prevalent.

“[Provincial Health Officer] Dr. Bonnie Henry has said several times, people in that community who get COVID-19 are more likely to be hospitalized than others. And so it’s just because people experiencing homelessness, or in poverty, have fewer layers of defence against COVID-19,” he says.

“I think it’s important for people to know that the health outcome or people experiencing homelessness, who get COVID-19 are much worse than the majority of the population.”

He adds, about 200 were able to get their shot last week at the clinic.

“On woman after getting her vaccine on Friday told us I felt like Christmas,” he says.

“We know that people who are experiencing homelessness, or who are housing insecure, have far fewer layers of defence against COVID-19. They don’t have a place to self-isolate, they lack basic defenses like a place to frequently wash your hands, have a washroom — all these really basic things that we need to not be infected by COVID-19 are so much more difficult for people experiencing homelessness.”

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Three other sites in the neighbourhood have also been hosting clinics since last week. Those eligible include: residents who are homeless, live in a shelter, an SRO or supportive housing.

“We just need to continue doing the work to keep people safe, though, because we know the risks are still prevalent. We know people are stepping in right now COVID-19 is still a threat.