While the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines across the country has begun, Christ House leadership has been diligently preparing and coordinating access to vaccines for patients, Kairos permanent housing members, and staff. Christ House’s Quality Improvement Committee decided to focus efforts on access to vaccines in January and has made great strides.
As of February, many staff had received both doses of the Moderna vaccine, or are scheduled to receive their second dose shortly. Christ House clinical staff have been identifying patients who want to learn about the vaccine, setting up appointments, and monitoring symptoms after patients receive their doses. They have been meeting with patients 1-on-1 to review how the vaccine works and most importantly, to answer any questions a patient might have about the vaccine. “This way,” says Mary Jordan, Executive and Clinical Director, as well as Nurse Practitioner, “patients are prepared either way once the vaccine is available to them.” The fact sheet distributed during these meetings includes information on how the vaccines work, risks of COVID-19, benefits of the vaccine, and information for those who have a weakened immune system.
Connecting patients with vaccines has required a high degree of patience and coordination among shelters, Unity Health Care workers, and the DC Government. The adaptability of the staff has already opened the door for many patients and Kairos members to receive their vaccines. Part of this adaptability includes extending patients’ stays when needed so that they are able to receive the second dose of the vaccine without complications. Nurse Practitioner Mari Lowe discusses another challenge to connecting patients with the vaccine, “There are misconceptions that vaccines make you sick. There is a history of systemic racism where communities of color have been mistreated in medical settings. What we’ve done to make patients comfortable is to promote autonomy in decision-making and provide access to information.” Using these strategies, Mari is happy to share that most patients, staff, and Kairos members have received at least their first dose of the vaccine at this point. She says “There is a consensus among patients, staff, and Kairos members that we are a community and vaccines are another way to protect and foster our community.”
When asked about receiving his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, one patient shared, “I didn’t feel a thing. No bad reaction. I’m glad I took it. I recommend everybody take it.” For Mary Jordan, the most important aspect of receiving the vaccine is our ability to continue to treat patients: “We’re fortunate – it gives us a degree of protection to keep working with patients coming through our doors.” In looking ahead into 2021, she shares, “I’m hopeful because we?ve contained any outbreak, we’re effectively working to get staff and patients immunized, we’re doing daily surveillance and weekly testing of patients and Kairos members. We, as healthcare workers, all feel more hopeful now that there’s a vaccine available.”
People experiencing homelessness are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 when living in congregate settings such as shelters. Practicing hygiene and accessing PPE also present challenges to this population, increasing the risk of transmission. Ensuring the homeless population has access to vaccines quickly can help reduce the spread of the virus.