MetroHealth, Local Health Departments Begin Vaccinating Homeless Community

A man in a lab coat and face mask administers a shot to a man in a gray shirt sitting in a chair.
About 100 people already got a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry Men’s Shelter. [MetroHealth]
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The combined efforts of the City of Cleveland, the Cuyahoga County Board of Health and MetroHealth System have already gotten the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine to 100 people at the largest homeless shelter in Ohio — and hundreds more are at the ready.

MetroHealth received about 1,000 vaccine doses for the effort, which began Friday at the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry Men’s Shelter and will completely vaccinate 500 people, said MetroHealth family physician Dr. Michael Seidman.

“There was a tremendous amount of excitement, both from clients and from staff, that we were finally coming to vaccinate,” Seidman said.

The vaccines are provided by the City of Cleveland’s Department of Public Health, he said, with assistance from Cuyahoga County. The department specifically set aside vaccines for the homeless community and those who work directly with them, due to the congregate nature of shelter life, he said, and aren’t taking away from the general supply. MetroHealth plans to visit eight more shelters over the next few days.

Anyone living in the shelters does not need to meet age or health prerequisites put forth by Gov. Mike DeWine to be vaccinated, Seidman said, as they are being prioritized because of the higher risk associated with shared and congregate living setting.

“It’s not fair to compare solely based on Gov. DeWine’s groupings,” Seidman said. “They’re looking at the fact that the population is living in congregate settings.”

MetroHealth will return to the shelters in about two and a half weeks to administer the second dose of the vaccine, Seidman said. Healthcare workers are coordinating with shelter staff to ensure as many people as possible return at that time, he said, and are fully vaccinated through the program.

“The shelter staff know their clients better than we do, and we are going to work as a team to try and ensure that as many people as can will get their second shots,” Seidman said.

But the difficulty in getting patients to return for the second dose is not unique to the homeless community, Seidman said.

“There’s no guarantee that, when we vaccinate someone at Metro, that they are going to return at the appropriate time to get their second dose,” Seidman said.

MetroHealth also has provided screenings, tests and education to shelters over the course of the pandemic, Seidman said.

Once the initial 1,000 vaccines are administered, Seidman said the partners will reassess the need and determine whether to continue vaccinations.

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