On the Friday morning of April 2, charge nurse Carie Whitton with Harborview Medical Center unfolds chairs and then pulls on new, purple gloves. Her goal that day is to administer 165 COVID-19 vaccines into the arms of vulnerable community members, with 11 of those people being Real Change vendors.
Parked outside the Real Change Vendor Center, on a South Main Street quieted by quarantine, Whitton urges newly vaccinated people to return to this exact location in four weeks.
Whitton explained that the two mobile vaccine units are part of a grant program with King County and are in partnership with UW Medicine in an effort to vaccinate communities disproportionately impacted by the virus.
Whitton said mobile vaccine clinics like hers target underserved communities and pick locations where they will have the most significant impact, like Pioneer Square, where people experiencing homelessness are known to congregate.
The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation funds the grant, and $1 million will target vaccinations for Black and Indigenous people, people of color and people experiencing homelessness.
While finding a COVID-19 appointment online can be challenging for any Seattleite, unsheltered people are often dependent on word of mouth or happenstance, like Whitton’s mobile unit, to get set up with a vaccine dose.
Vendor Program Director Rebecca Marriot has tracked 25 Real Change vendors who have been vaccinated. We asked vendors what their experiences with COVID-19 vaccines have been like.
It wasn’t hard to get an appointment. Chief Seattle Club called my wife because she’s Native, and we got
our shots together about a month ago. You can’t lose; this is government-approved, and you can’t get any better than that. Let’s just look out for each other by vaccinating ourselves. It is very negative that some people have reasons not to get it. I don’t know what reason they have not to stay safe. The only way we’re going to be able to get out of this thing is if we all pull together. — Addis Michael
It wasn’t hard for me to get a vaccine. I just got an appointment at Harborview. My whole life I’ve never really gotten sick from things that are contagious. I get the flu vaccine because my mom tells me to. But I can count on one hand the times I’ve gotten sick from things like that. — Josh Trujillo
My arm was sore. It stayed sore that night and morning. Taking a hot shower helped. Firemen came and gave us the shot where I live. A fine-ass fireman gave me mine! Then they had seven shots left, so I went outside and found homeless people to come into our community room and get them — the manager there didn’t like that, but the people got the shots anyway! — Janice Dampier
I wasn’t eligible because of my age, and I’m not homeless anymore. I also don’t have any underlying comorbidities. I’m waiting in line just like everyone else, and I feel good about that — April 15 is not that far away. I think essential workers, educators and people working at QFC should be getting it first. I’m having more trouble getting a referral for an MRI. — Dawn Comiskey
I had COVID last March. They didn’t have any treatment when I got it. I was sick — I’m 62 now — but I’ve been through a lot worse. Been close to dying several times. Even stopped breathing once. I’ve had full-blown pneumonia six times and been stabbed four times. COVID really affects my paper sales. Before it, I sold 2,720 papers one month! Believe it or not, I used to be one of the best salesmen. — Willie Jones
A mobile COVID-19 vaccine unit pulled in front of Lyon housing, where I was staying. They just showed up, and I called my mom and she told me to take it. She’s 75 years old, and she’s already had hers — that’s the reason why I took it, actually. — Zoebon Daidii
Mobilizing the vaccine
Washington’s vaccination schedule entered Phase 1B Tiers 3 and 4 on March 31, permitting vaccines for people fitting one or more of these categories.
- Age 60 years and older
- 16 and older with two or more comorbidities or underlying conditions
- Inhabitants, staff and volunteers in certain congregate living settings:
- Correctional facilities
- Group homes for people with disabilities
- Settings where people experiencing homelessness live or access services
- High-risk critical workers in
- certain congregate settings:
- Food services
Local public health officials and homelessness advocates voiced concerns that people experiencing homelessness should be prioritized sooner and sought out beyond shelter systems because they faced extreme barriers to getting vaccinated.
Mobile vaccine clinics have since been utilized as one solution. These vans have been roaming in search of vulnerable communities. A van parked at Real Change earlier this month after completing a clinic elsewhere.
Yet for people with unstable or no housing, returning to a location on the date when the mobile clinic returns four weeks later isn’t easy or, in some cases, possible. And if a mobile clinic doesn’t find someone, it could be impossible for that person to make a clinic appointment without the internet or a phone or get there without a vehicle.
Read more in the Apr. 14-20, 2021 issue.