City plans mobile operation to vaccinate homeless residents

Timing will depend on availability of vaccines, expansion of eligibility

San Francisco intends to deploy mobile vaccine teams to vaccinate homeless people living in encampments, “safe” sleeping sites and different shelter settings, a new report shows.

Beginning in March, The City intends to conduct “a series of pilot programs to assess how we can vaccinate people experiencing homelessness who live in buildings with a large proportion of residents age 65 and older, in keeping with the state’s guidelines,” according to one section of The City’s vaccination plan released this week by the Department of Public Health.

The timeline for other efforts, including a “scale up,” isn’t specified and is contingent upon supply and an expansion of who is eligible for the vaccine under the state’s guidelines.

“When vaccine supply and the state prioritization plan allows, we will deploy mobile vaccine teams to reach people at” congregate shelters, permanent supportive housing, shelter-in-place hotels, “safe” sleeping sites and encampments, according to the plan.

“Our goal is to work alongside our city partners to bring vaccines to the sheltered and unsheltered population of about 17,000 people,” the plan reads.

The City’s first mobile operation was piloted on Feb. 12 at Vera Haile Senior Housing in the Tenderloin, when 81 eligible residents were vaccinated, the plan said.

Supervisor Matt Haney, whose legislation was approved by the Board of Supervisors requiring the plan, said the strategy laid out for the homeless population lacked specifics and speed.

“It’s still very vague and doesn’t have many details at all,” Haney said. “There are still no sites, let alone mobile sites in the Tenderloin. We need walk-in sites here in this neighborhood where there are many people who are unhoused who can just walk in and get a vaccine. I didn’t see that in the plan.”

He suggested The City should have a site at Glide, a nonprofit in the Tenderloin, where “people who are eligible right now will walk in and get vaccinated.”

Those currently eligible to receive the vaccine are 65 years and older, health care workers, first responders, teachers, childcare workers and those employed in the food sector, under the state’s guidelines. On March 15, the state will allow people with disabilities or who are at higher risk for morbidity and mortality from COVID-19 to be vaccinated.

“It’s about to be March,” Haney said. “I think they should have more detail by now and they should have actual mobile sites set up by now or at least identified.”

Kelley Cutler, an organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness, called it a “a challenging and complex issue due to availability of the vaccine as well as training up a bunch of different people from [nonprofits] and community groups to do outreach.”

“I know they have been working on getting it up and running, but like everything during COVID, it’s taking more time,” Cutler said.

Part of the strategy laid out in the plan is to focus on locations and groups at highest risk of transmission.

“Open congregate settings pose the greatest risk, followed by SRO-style buildings, apartments and finally dense households,” the plan said. “We will also factor in a site’s history of outbreak or outbreak risk, and percent of the population over 65. At many places, we will need to set up a vaccination clinic on site.”

The mobile teams will have the ability to “document all encounters and doses with electronic records.”

The COVID Command Center and the Department of Public Health “will be working with community partners to build mobile vaccine teams that can reach populations with high rates of COVID-19 illness, hospitalization and death and with structural barriers to accessing vaccine,” said a statement from The City’s COVID Command Center. “As we test and expand these operations, we will do so in accordance with state guidelines.”

“In the meantime, throughout the homelessness response system in San Francisco – in shelters, in permanent supportive housing sites, in street outreach – city workers are actively encouraging eligible people to get vaccinated,” the statement continued. “In permanent supportive housing sites, for example, medical staff have been referring eligible residents to vaccine clinics and to resources like free Muni rides to get there.”

It’s not clear how many homeless have been administered a dose.

“While we do not have exact numbers, the drop-in vaccine clinic at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital has been serving many people experiencing homelessness who are 65 and older, regardless of ZIP code and insurance status,” the statement said.

About 2 percent of San Francisco’s COVID-19 cases, or 662 of 33,910, are those experiencing homelessness, according to The City’s data as of Friday. Of the 410 deaths attributed to COVID, three were homeless.

As of Friday, 149,646 residents over the age of 16, or 20 percent, have received the first dose of the vaccine, while 8 percent have received their second dose, city data shows.

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