Vaccinations are ending the pandemic – which is why PHS staff are supporting pop-up clinics across the communities served.

Throughout the last year-and-a-half, PHS Community Services Society has been working with health authorities to help avert a COVID-19 crisis among a high-risk population already reeling from homelessness and the toxic drugs crisis.

At the outset key PHS staff came forward to coordinate the organization’s COVID-19 response: Tegan De-Palma, Spike Harris, Kim Hiebert, Stephanie Lai, Erin Matthews and Ramsay Moffat brought together Vancouver and Victoria operations.

Their aims are prioritizing PHS innovation, avoiding duplication of staff effort and supporting public health initiatives. Currently, the focus is supporting vaccinations.

At the beginning of 2021, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) set out to triage high-risk communities, offering priority vaccination to seniors and other vulnerable people.

Pop-up clinics

Senior Housing Manager Spike Harris has been the vaccinations point person, acting as a liaison between PHS and VCH and helping out at pop-up vaccine clinics, aided by Cole Small, Project Operations Manager.

“There can be hundreds of vaccinations administered at a single clinic,” said Spike. “There’s been more and more interest in vaccination as the process continued.

“In the beginning, a surprising number of people were really not interested. Historically, this group is the last to get anything, and people in the Downtown Eastside were understandably suspicious to suddenly be first.”

On clinic days Spike and Cole help with set-up, then act as crowd control – asking passers-by if they’ve had their shot yet and directing them where to line up.

At the start of the year, many people were generally hesitant about the vaccines, but as the roll-out proceeded, people’s initial question changed from whether to get a vaccine to which vaccine to get.

Overcoming initial hesitancy

Initial hesitancy has diminished one conversation at a time. The PHS and VCH crew have listened to concerns and answered questions, assisted greatly by peers bringing their community credibility to the process.

Cole said: “I think people seeing pop-up clinics on the sidewalk makes the vaccination process seem more everyday. It’s all out in the open at the side of the street.”

Pop-up clinics are typically held on high-traffic sidewalks, occasionally at community centres and periodically at PHS accommodations. The strategy has turned the Downtown Eastside from a supposed COVID-19 hotspot into one approaching herd immunity.

“When Covid kicked off, what I envisioned happening to this neighbourhood terrified me,” said Spike. “It could have been a perfect storm in the DTES. That didn’t happen because of the vaccine.”

“It’s been great working with VCH on this, who have been really collaborative. I frequently exchanged texts with the leads on their Covid team, often late into the night, to touch base and to see how things are going. We worked together and we got it done.”

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