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Local health leaders working to vaccinate homeless and vulnerable populations as more become eligible


Local health leaders and non-profits are working to get the vaccine into the homeless population, as vaccinations continue across the state.

Phase 2 of Missouri's vaccine rollout plan, which opens on Monday, includes people experiencing homelessness among other populations.

The Columbia/Boone County Health Department started vaccinated some of the population that is already eligible on Tuesday and the Salvation Army, Turning Point, and True North.

The spokeswoman for the health department Sara Humm said health leaders have been working with those non-profits who work directly with the vulnerable populations

"It can be difficult for them to get the information needed to know how and where to get the vaccine," Humm said. "We are really grateful to have those relationships so that way it's easier for us to get folks vaccinated who are in those vulnerable populations."

The department is able to set aside some of its vaccine allocations each week to dedicate to outreach clinics for people in vulnerable populations that might not have access to the vaccine otherwise.

"One of our main focuses is breaking down those barriers that people have," Humm said.

The Community Health Center of Central Missouri in Jefferson City has also started vaccinated those eligible in this community.

We have been working with the United Way,  Jefferson City Housing Authority, and Salvation Army to administer vaccines to those underserved populations.  It is our hope that once vaccine supply increases and more tiers open up, we will be able to leverage these partnerships to ramp up vaccination efforts in the underserved communities.

Dr. Crystal Sullivan, Community Health Center of Central Missouri

The Regional Director of The Salvation Army in Columbia and Jefferson City Lori Benson said the homeless population is one of the most vulnerable populations when it comes to COVID-19.

"No matter what their age is, they are all together, and homeless individuals usually try to support each other," Benson said.

The Salvation Army is focusing on communicating to the residents of the shelters about the vaccine.

"We try to let our clients know and as many people that are passing through our doors as possible," Benson said.

She said getting this community vaccinated is critical to keeping resources available and open, and hopefully start to reopen shelters at higher capacities.

"If COVID comes into the shelter, we have to close the shelter down and people don't get services," Benson said.

Even though some of the homeless population have started to get vaccinated in the area, Benson said she would have liked to see the group prioritized sooner than it was.

"Just because I do feel like they are in a very vulnerable position, it would have probably been good to do them sooner," Benson said. "When you are homeless and you are trying to get resources, your hands are tied a lot, and you have to take what comes at you good or bad."

ABC17 News reached out to Governor Mike Parson's office for a comment, and to ask if anything is being done on a state level to reach this population. The request was not immediately answered.

A spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services said a committee looking at the equitable distribution of the vaccine is working with providers on how to get the vaccine out to all populations.

The committee just formed an "Unhoused Workgroup" to work on ways to promote access to those with and without shelter.

The workgroup continues to meet regularly to help inform MO’s framework to ensure the homeless population has increased access to the COVID-19 vaccine throughout the state. The State is working with our current partners to leverage existing sheltered and unsheltered data locations across the state of Missouri to help inform local strategies for outreach, education and events with external partners and our Regional Implementation Teams (RIT).

Lisa Cox, Missouri DHSS
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Connor Hirsch

Connor Hirsch reports for the weekday night shows, as well as Sunday nights.


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