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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / RN Qutiba "Q" Abazid gives Frank Davis his second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during a free vaccination event put on by The Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition, in partnership with the Hamilton County Health Department, Olivet Baptist Church, and Arts Build at the old chapel across from Mount Olivet Baptist Church on Saturday, June 12, 2021 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The local effort to reach people who are hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine is involving partners with a focus on helping the local homeless community.

This past weekend, the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition hosted a clinic and education event at Olivet Baptist Church with the help of the Hamilton County Health Department, Arts Build and the Baptist church. The event was the second of its kind for homeless individuals and part of the citywide "Get Vaccinated Chattanooga" campaign.

Wendy Winters, executive director of the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition, said most people who wanted shots when they first became available already received their doses. The Hamilton County Health Department has administered doses at its clinic on 11th Street, and groups have visited area campsites to provide shots, Winters said. Free vaccine doses are available at the Homeless Health Care Center during the week.

Events like the one on Saturday are aimed to engage people who are hesitant or who have questions, Winters said.

"We don't think at this point that it's an access issue for this population but more of just misinformation and those that are left to vaccinate, which is still a lot of the population. They are the ones who are vaccine-hesitant," she said.

The coalition put on a similar event in late May, offering the first of two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The event included free pizza and a DJ. Around half of the people who came to the events chose to get vaccinated then, Winters said, but for the people who decline, the event is still an opportunity to provide information and get people thinking about the benefits.

"It's just about continually exposing them to the idea of getting vaccinated, answering their questions, easing their fears, and it's little by little that we're vaccinating these folks who are hesitant to get it," Winters said.

At the event in May, 13 shots were given, and this past weekend, 18 shots were administered, Winters said.

The precise vaccine rate among local people experiencing homelessness is hard to determine given that people can cycle in and out of homelessness. The area's annual count of the unsheltered showed a dramatic increase in the past year, a jump of more than 80% in Hamilton County since 2019, but those figures represent a single night in January.

Winters said the latest estimates are that around 450 individuals in the homeless community have been vaccinated, or about half of the approximately 800 people on a given night who are unsheltered or are being housed through a local organization.

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

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