As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues in Albuquerque, the unhoused and those experiencing homelessness are now eligible to receive the vaccine.
Homelessness has been steadily increasing in Albuquerque for years — from 2013 to 2019, the number of unhoused persons in the city jumped from 144 to 567, according to an article from NM Political Report.
As the number of people experiencing homelessness in Albuquerque continues to grow, medical personnel are tasked with ensuring they receive their COVID vaccinations too.
Benjamin Fox, a program specialist at the University of New Mexico’s Health Sciences Center, has been working with a medical team at the Westside Emergency Housing Center (WEHC) to help get as many shelter residents vaccinated as possible.
“Part of my role is actually to organize vaccine events within a shelter and for those experiencing homelessness,” Fox said. “So far, within that system at WEHC, we’ve been able to offer 313 doses to the population there.”
Since the vaccine distribution began, Fox said the shelter has been able to hold three separate vaccination events, with their most recent taking place on March 29.
Fox said the vaccination process begins with shelter residents signing up and completing a screening process to ensure they meet the state’s vaccination phase requirements. If a resident meets the requirements, they’re then eligible to receive their vaccine dose.
“At the first event we were able to give 112 doses, at the second event we were able to give 114 doses and then we did offer 75 doses (at the third event),” Fox said.
Despite vaccination events successfully taking place, there are still two logistical challenges that remain — procuring and storing the vaccine doses and following up with residents to make sure they return for their booster shots.
Fox said the WEHC doesn’t have the facilities on site to store all the vaccine doses for these events, and has to receive doses through the New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) or pharmacies like Walgreens.
“We’re not able to store any vaccines on site, but we’re able to get our doses through those providers (instead),” Fox said.
The storage of vaccines is being dealt with by the shelter’s partners, but the medical team is still struggling to ensure residents return for their second dose.
Normally, the NMDOH would contact an individual through text message or email, but for those who are unhoused or experiencing homelessness, that might not be possible.
“Many of (the unhoused), even if they do have phones, may not have reliable phone service, reliable minutes,” Fox said. “They may not have email accounts that they check regularly, they may not even have email accounts.”
In response, Fox and his team opted for a “boots on the ground” approach and kept a list of the names of the shelter residents who required the second dose and followed up with them periodically.
“We wanted to try as hard as we could to adhere to the CDC and (NMDOH vaccination) recommendations that everyone get that second dose,” Fox said. “And overall we’ve been pretty successful with that.”
According to Fox, the shelter has been able to administer a second dose to 84% of its residents.
“(Providing) this service and these vaccines to a really at-risk population is really important, and I’ve been pretty proud of this team’s efforts,” Fox said.
Gino Gutierrez is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @GGutierrez48