Shelters preparing for COVID-19 vaccine distribution

Published: Feb. 4, 2021 at 5:49 PM CST
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APPLETON Wis. (WBAY) - One of the groups included in the next round of vaccinations are shelter staff and residents.

“Shelter is congregate living, which has fallen into the 1B phase,” said Christine McCain, the Pillars Adult and Family Shelter Manager in Appleton.

That means shelters across the area preparing to vaccinate staff and those it serves in March, when the next phase is set to begin.

But there are some barriers to consider.

“Lack of transportation,” is one, said McCain. “Many clients are just relying on public transport to get around, so providing those bus passes or bringing the vaccine where it’s available for them, on-site potentially.”

Executive Director Joe Mauthe believes distribution on-site at their shelters is the way to go.

“We kind of have the space, the time. We’re willing to organize that even for an on-site clinic,” said Mauthe. “Tentatively we have some agreements with some people to administer the vaccines through some pharmacists who are willing to do that on a voluntary basis.”

But a majority of Pillars clients do work, at all different shifts, making it difficult to determine when the best time to give out the vaccines will be.

Some shelters in Green Bay, New Community and St. John’s, will work with N.E.W. Community Clinic for distribution.

“We’ve worked with them with flu shots, the COVID testing a number of times, and we will work with them when the vaccines become available,” said Terri Refsguard, New Community Shelter Executive Director.

But even as logistics are in the works, shelters are also focusing on educating about the vaccine, too.

“We try to educate them on why the test is a good thing, why the flu shot is a good thing, and why when it comes the vaccine is a good thing,” said Refsguard.

“Really making sure we’re taking time to help them understand the development of the vaccination and increase their [comfort] with receiving the vaccination,” said McCain.

Pillars staff say beyond concerns over how fast the vaccines were made, clients in particular may find it hard to trust the process.

“We serve a disproportionate people of color, and we know, too, there is distrust there between people of color historically and the medical community,” said Lisa Strandberg, Pillars Community Engagement Director.

“I think there might be a natural distrust of ‘Is this going to be the same as some of the other things I’ve seen as I’ve applied for disability benefits, or tried to access services in one way or another,’” said Mauthe. “So it probably falls a little bit under the shadow of their lived experience as well.”

In the long run, the vaccines will give shelters a benefit beyond increasing health safety.

For Pillars, they anticipate it will lessen the need to book hotel rooms for quarantines, ultimately decreasing expenses.

At New Community Shelter, they hope to be able to start bringing back their volunteers.

“We cannot wait to have our volunteers back. That is big,” said Refsguard. “They prepare and serve meals here to now 300 people in the evening. We’re now doing it ourselves and doing it in a to-go fashion.”

Both shelters say while the populations they serve can be transient, they have fairly good consistency with residents and anticipate they’ll be able to provide the necessary second doses of the vaccine.

It’s just a matter of when supply of the vaccine will become available to shelters.

“We have everything lined up except the availability of the vaccines which is restricted right now. So, we continue to look at that, hope that the supply chain works its way out,” said Mauthe. “With, I think with [Tuesday’s] announcement of vaccines also being delivered directly to pharmacies - that may open up some options of how we might be able to do that.”

Shelters for people seeking refuge, such as domestic violence shelters, are also considered congregate housing and they are also included in phase 1B (see related story).

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