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New COVID-19 vaccine clinic opens for Calgary’s homeless population

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#BeTheChangeYYC launched a drop-in clinic Saturday to help Calgary’s homeless population get vaccinated against COVID-19.

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The clinic is at the Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary’s Indigenous Hub every Wednesday and every second Saturday starting May 29.

People who are experiencing homelessness have complex needs and barriers that make booking appointments less accessible, according to #BeTheChangeYYC, so the organization wants to “meet people where they are” to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“The key here is to have as many access points as possible. Whether that’s in shelters, whether that’s in street clinics, whether that’s in emergency departments or supervised consumption sites, having the vaccine available to them wherever they’re at is key,” said Dr. Monty Ghosh, assistant clinical professor at the universities of Calgary and Alberta, and an addictions physician who works with the vulnerable.

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In this population, there is a lot of hesitancy, not only about the vaccine but also working with others due to past trauma, bad outcomes or stigma, Ghosh explained.

“The key here is to utilize existing relationships and build on existing relationships with this population,” Ghosh said.

“Having health-care providers who are already familiar with the population — who already have an existing trusting relationship developed — be the ones to provide the vaccine, be the ones to educate them on the vaccine, be the ones to take them from point A to point B to get the vaccine.”

Volunteer Chaz Smith (right) distributes aid to a homeless man in Calgary on Wednesday, May 20, 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Homeless people need to be a priority group, Ghosh said, adding that he is glad the pop-up clinic will offer support.

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“We’ve got to keep the momentum moving forward to get the vaccine to as many individuals as possible, including our most vulnerable because they don’t have access to hand hygiene,” Ghosh said.

“They don’t have access to independent sleeping quarters. They’re always exposed to each other.”

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