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Tucson's homeless at forefront of new COVID-19 vaccine effort

COVID-19 Vaccine
Posted at 6:41 AM, Apr 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-02 09:41:36-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Pop-up sites are opening around Tucson with one purpose: vaccinating the homeless against COVID-19.

"A big part of Pima County's focus with vaccine distribution is on equitable distribution. We want to get vaccines to those populations who traditionally have been left out of a lot of those health services," said Pima County Health Department Program Manager for Congregate Facilities, Kat Davis.

El Rio Community Health Center has hosted 13 COVID-19 vaccine clinics at various shelters and encampments around Tucson. Their staff and volunteers have treated 539 people with the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine.

"El Rio is actually registering people for the vaccine on-site. That removes the barrier of having to make the appointment and do all the registration. For those that don't have insurance, the vaccine is still free for everyone," said Davis.

It goes beyond just providing the vaccines. Local leaders have found that some people experiencing homelessness know very little, if any, information about the vaccine. Jason Thorpe, with the City of Tucson Housing & Community Development Department, said it comes down to a lack of access.

"These are folks that don't necessarily have access to the same information that everyone else does. We really wanted to find a way, once we knew the vaccine was available, to make sure there was confidence, among people experiencing homelessness, in its safety," said Thorpe.

To help, the Tucson Pima Collaboration to End Homelessness created a new ambassador program. Their goal is to recruit community members interested in educating the homeless about the vaccine, so they can make the best choice for themselves.

"My hope for vaccination among folks experiencing homelessness is the same hope that it is for all people. My hope is that anyone that wants a vaccine has one," said Thorpe.

Tucson Pima Collaboration to End Homelessness will host a virtual training session, for those interested in becoming ambassadors, on Friday, April 2 from 1-3 p.m. To learn more and register, click here.