An initiative to vaccinate people experiencing homelessness in the Central Okanagan is underway. Last week, some in the Kelowna community were offered their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
However, only around 20 residents of the 110 people staying at Gospel Mission shelters on Leon Avenue and Doyle Avenue said yes to being vaccinated. More than 80 per cent declined the offer.
On Thursday morning (March 4), Kelowna Gospel Mission executive director Carmen Rempel received a message from their Doyle Shelter manager, saying nurses from Interior Health were at their doorstep looking to vaccinate staff, as well as the homeless population.
An hour and a half later, they were at the mission’s Leon Avenue doorstep. In this time, Rempel was able to gather some of her staff and residents.
Rempel believes the short notice, combined with an already leery viewpoint of vaccinations by the shelter community, caused this to happen.
“Many of our residents were just caught unaware and weren’t prepared to be doing it that day. And when caught off guard, the default position is no. And that’s just human nature with all of us,” she said.
Additionally, she explained many of the individuals who stay at the shelter suffer from mental health challenges, including paranoia and anxiety. Others have PTSD tied to mental institutions; for them, just the sight of a nurse or doctor can trigger feelings of fear.
“Many felt that the vaccine is unsafe and that COVID is a conspiracy and actually not a threat. So they also said no thanks.”
Despite a rough start, Rempel extended sincere thanks to the health authority.
“I realize that this job is extraordinarily difficult, and my understanding is that they were notified Wednesday evening that come Thursday morning, they were going to start rolling out vaccinations at shelters.”
Going forward, both the health authority and local shelters face a large challenge when it comes to vaccinations.
Rempel looked to their friends in Vancouver who, when faced with similar challenges, developed an incentive program offering money or gift cards to residents in exchange for attending a presentation on vaccines.
The key, she said, is in education.
“Sometimes people just need to have that one-on-one conversation to help them talk it through and to make the decision,” Rempel said.
IH and the Gospel Mission are already planning how they can vaccinate the rest of their staff and educate residents so when IH returns, more will opt in.
Offering vaccinations to vulnerable populations are a part of phase two of vaccinations, according to IH.
“People who are experiencing homelessness in Kelowna are being offered vaccinations last week and this week.”
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