Column: Homeless populations should have vaccination priority?


Aaron Shanks, Staff Columnist

Homeless individuals do not have the luxury of self-isolating during the coronavirus pandemic. Usually, people experiencing homelessness have pre-existing medical conditions. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, homeless individuals are nearly six times more likely to have diabetes and heart disease than the general population.
Health officials should prioritize the health of our most vulnerable community members. In numerous cities nationwide, medical staff will enter homeless shelters to give free COVID-19 vaccinations. The task that lies ahead, is easing fears about the COVID-19 vaccine among homeless individuals. It is recommended that states establish “vaccine ambassadors” to engage hesitant people. These ambassadors help homeless people find support such as food and healthcare.
For most homeless individuals, the primary concerns are potential side effects and the finding a place to sleep at night.” Various states have moved teachers and elderly residents up. Individuals encountering homelessness have been neglected during this process. For example, in North Carolina, an October distribution plan contained homeless shelter residents in the first phase. But the current plan groups homeless shelter staff essential workers, therefore putting them in the state’s third group and moves people living in homeless shelters into group 4.
Hopefully, prioritizing homeless persons in shelters in COVID-19 vaccine distribution will help lessen the transmission of the virus in cities nationwide. It also assures that vulnerable populations are protected against the virus as cities push the vaccine’s distribution.
Choices on prioritizing people for vaccination should preferably evaluate the medical and social risks linked to COVID-19. Although vaccination shortages make these decisions difficult, it is seemingly difficult to overlook the immediate needs of a defenseless population whose severe distress is hard to grasp. Homeless citizens cannot comply with the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, considering it is tough to socially distance in shelters and outdoor spaces. There is limited access to proper hygiene. They can’t self-isolate with no form of housing, and they do not have access to face masks. Not only are the homeless worried about the coronavirus, but potential shutdowns personally impact them.
In his Nobel Peace Prize address, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “A second evil which plagues the modern world is that of poverty… Almost two-thirds of the peoples of the world go to bed hungry at night. They are undernourished, ill-housed, and shabbily clad. Many of them have no houses or beds to sleep in. Their only beds are the sidewalks of the cities and the dusty roads of the villages. Most of these poverty-stricken children of God have never seen a physician or a dentist.” There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it.” This statement is still relevant today, considering that the COVID-19 pandemic worsened health and social disparities. To better serve homeless residents, we must address their greatest needs.
The homeless are a rather small population, but it is one where vaccinations present a long-term benefit, especially with an ever-changing American healthcare system.