Mobile clinic provides COVID-19 vaccines on the go to Edmonton encampments

People in Edmonton sleeping rough will be able to access the COVID-19 vaccine more easily beginning Tuesday morning.

The Boyle McCauley Health Centre, in partnership with the Bissell Centre, will be providing vaccine outreach to people staying in encampments across Edmonton.

The mobile vaccination clinic helps break down barriers that are often present for Edmonton’s homeless population.

“They may not have access to a phone or the internet to book an appointment. They may not have transportation to get to an appointment. They may just have general barriers to accessing health care overall,” Boyle McCauley Health Centre’s executive director Tricia Smith explained.

Read more: Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout failing most vulnerable populations: doctors

Terry Newborn works at NiGiNan Housing Ventures. The Elder said the mobile clinic is an important extension of care for vulnerable populations.

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“[The clients] have a hard time living. By living, I mean eating food every day. They are more concerned about that than getting the vaccine,” he said.

The mobile vaccination clinic is similar to the inside of a doctor’s examination room — but it also has a refrigerator to keep vaccine doses cool.

The inside of the Boyle McCauley mobile vaccination clinic. Courtesy: Tricia Smith

“It’s an extension of the work we have already started,” explained Smith.

The health centre has been providing vaccines to people in Edmonton since March through the health centre itself and other pop-up clinics at shelters throughout the city. Smith said they have distributed more than 1,500 doses to the population.

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“Clients are very happy to get the vaccine in a place they are comfortable. They see our staff for their day-to-day health care. It’s like going to see your own family physician. It’s someone you trust,” she said.

Alberta Health Services agreed to provide Boyle McCauley Health Centre with a supply of vaccine for nurses and outreach workers to distribute to help close the gap in immunization numbers.

“Bringing the vaccine to people that have barriers to accessing it is the only way we can get needles in arms in the population,” Smith said. “We want to reduce that disparity in any way we possibly can.”

Read more: Interactive map breaks down COVID-19 vaccination rate by Alberta community

Low vaccination rates in certain Edmonton neighbourhoods doesn’t necessarily mean there’s vaccine hesitancy, according to one health policy expert.

Dr. Lorian Hardcastle said it’s often an indication that people are having troubling accessing centralized vaccine sites.

“You need to follow up those [widespread] efforts with more tailored efforts that bring vaccines to people who want them,” Hardcastle said.

“We have relationships with these individuals, we can help identify them. They just need to provide a name and birth date and we can look them up in the system and be able to provide vaccine,” Smith said.

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The clinic is tracking who has received the first dose of the vaccine and plans to follow up to make appointments for a second dose.

“We will go back to our clinics, to our adult and women shelters and probably the encampments. We will redo our initiative all over again,” Smith said.

Smith said they have partnered with the Bissell Centre, the Mustard Seed and the City of Edmonton to help keep track of the often fluid location of encampments.

The mobile clinic is scheduled to run on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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