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COVID-19 clinics begin vaccinating residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

Click to play video 'COVID-19 vaccination clinics held on Downtown Eastside' COVID-19 vaccination clinics held on Downtown Eastside
Days after a COVID-19 outbreak at the Surrey Emergency Response Centre, vaccination clinics are underway in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside for high risk and vulnerable members of the street population. Paul Johnson reports – Jan 30, 2021

For the second day in a row, health-care workers were in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside administering doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to community members.

A team set up at the Carnegie Community Centre on Saturday, giving shots to the homeless, people living in Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels, shelters and supportive housing.

Read more: Canada’s other health-care crisis: the epidemic of fatal drug overdoses

“I was originally under the impression I wouldn’t be able to get it until April or May, and I was really happy,” Michael Leland, a binner who has lived in the area for 22 years, told Global News.

Click to play video 'Challenging the Downtown Eastside stigma' Challenging the Downtown Eastside stigma
Challenging the Downtown Eastside stigma – Dec 5, 2020

Leland got his shot Friday, and said it involved about a two-hour wait.

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B.C.’s vaccination plan prioritizes health-care workers and the elderly, but has also made exceptions for Indigenous communities and other vulnerable groups.

On Friday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the DTES vaccination clinics were a response to outbreaks in the area.

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“We are seeing outbreaks in people who are under-housed and homeless in in the Downtown Eastside and also in in areas of Fraser Health and Surrey in particular,” she said.

“And we know that people in those situations are much more likely to get severely this end up in hospital.”

Henry tied some of the flare up in the area to outbreaks at St. Paul’s Hospital, where she said many people in the Downtown Eastside go for their health care.

Read more: Vancouver reopens 3 ‘vital’ Downtown Eastside community centres amid COVID-19

Brianne De Man, a manager with the Binners’ Project, a group that works with binners to divert trash from landfills while providing them with income, has been working the phones and the streets to get the word out about the clinics.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus concerns on the Downtown Eastside' Coronavirus concerns on the Downtown Eastside
Coronavirus concerns on the Downtown Eastside – Apr 8, 2020

“A lot of people down here don’t have modern modes of communication, cell phones, social media, things like that,” she said.

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“I think it’s important for community organizations like ours who have relationships and trust built with our members to be able to bridge those gaps.”

Word of mouth, she said, will be crucial in getting Downtown Eastside residents vaccinated.

That approach was on full display near the Overdose Prevention Site, where a makeshift mural sprang up with vaccine clinic information.

De Man also believes there is work to do in combatting misinformation about the vaccine among some Downtown Eastside residents, some of whom don’t believe the vaccine will work, or will not work against new variants of the virus.

Leland said he’s also found some reticence among his neighbours about the shot.

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Read more: Fraser Health declares COVID-19 outbreak at Surrey homeless shelter

“The people that are aware of their health and taking care of themselves care about it, however, the rest of them there’s not a lot of interest that I can see,” he said.

Like De Man, he believes it will be a challenge to make sure everyone who is eligible in the area makes it to a clinic, as well as making sure they get back for their second dose when it’s available.

“There’s so many people that don’t have access to a TV. I don’t have a TV,” he said.

“I won’t even see this report myself.”