When COVID-19 vaccines were first released in early 2021, many Jackson County residents rushed to get one, refreshing websites and driving miles for available appointments.
But for homeless residents, one of the groups at highest risk of COVID-19, this wasn’t an option. Getting a vaccine required overcoming multiple transportation and information barriers.
For many it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get vaccinated. Paige Kincaid, Regional COVID-19 Vaccination Coordinator for the Jackson County Health Department, thought of them.
Vaccines are vital to protecting people experiencing homelessness, Kincaid explains. Crowded living conditions in shelters and lack of hand-washing facilities in camps allow viruses to rapidly spread, making the people who live there especially vulnerable to outbreaks of disease.
Kincaid knew reaching this population would be a massive undertaking, but she also knew exactly who to turn to for help. “Care Beyond the Boulevard was the first non-profit that came to mind when I was thinking about new partnerships to form,” Kincaid says.
Care Beyond the Boulevard (CBB) brings free medical care directly to Kansas City residents experiencing homelessness with the help of their eye-catching, green mobile clinics. Kincaid first reached out in spring 2021 to ask if they had any COVID-19 vaccines for their clients. When she found out that they didn’t, she proposed a partnership to provide this vital service to Jackson County’s homeless population.
Over the past year, Kincaid and CBB have worked together to administer preventative vaccines to those in need. In April 2021, Kincaid began to provide COVID-19 vaccines at four or five traveling clinics per week all over Jackson, Clay, and Platte counties — all while staying on top of her regular health department duties. “I was a chase car following their green mobile medical bus that goes from stop to stop and from camp to camp,” she explains.
At these clinics, Kincaid noticed another pressing health issue facing this population that she could help address. Since 2019, Jackson County has had an ongoing outbreak of hepatitis A among homeless populations which has proved difficult to stop.
This extremely contagious liver infection can cause fatigue, nausea, and stomach pain for up to two months. Fortunately, the hepatitis A vaccine is highly effective and can help prevent sickness even if administered after an exposure. However, for someone without funds, reliable transportation, or a permanent address, receiving timely medical care isn’t easy. Hepatitis A remains uncommon in the general population, but homeless communities are at much higher risk of infections and outbreaks.
Kincaid saw an opportunity to inform others about their heightened risk of hepatitis by distributing easy-to-read brochures produced by the health department and by explaining how vaccines could help prevent infection. She began administering Hep A vaccines alongside COVID-19 vaccines to those interested.
Now Kincaid has shifted to vaccinating mostly at standing clinics. Every Monday night, she goes to the Micah Ministry at Independence Boulevard Christian Church along with other organizations that provide housing assistance, IDs, and medical care. “From the moment doors open for that particular clinic, we’re busy,” Kincaid says.
While she administers plenty of vaccinations, Kincaid also helps answer patients’ questions or concerns. People will approach her to ask questions like, “I had my first dose in April of last year, is it still okay to get my second dose?”
“A lot of those interactions can be short and sweet,” Kincaid says.
“Or they can be quite long. We’ll have people that really have a strong desire to know more about the COVID-19 vaccine.” Whatever the case may be, Kincaid is ready and willing to help explain.
Through the partnership with CBB, Kincaid has gathered more data on where hepatitis A cases are located, which will help control the outbreak. She hopes to map the locations of hepatitis A cases, “so we can go into a particular area or a particular camp that has high positivity and we can offer all the Hep A vaccines that we need.”
Plus, by consistently showing up at CBB clinics, Kincaid has been able to make sure people experiencing homelessness get second doses of vaccines. “We’re there, we’ll see them again, we’ll help them out and get them their second dose.”
That’s especially important for homeless populations. Both hepatitis and COVID-19 vaccines need follow-up doses to provide the most protection to vulnerable residents, but it can be hard to get second appointments to people who are frequently on the move. Being a familiar face and regular presence makes it easier for clients to find Kincaid again (and vice versa).
After providing over a thousand vital vaccines, Kincaid’s collaboration is no doubt helping to protect the health of Jackson County residents experiencing homelessness. “This partnership with Care Beyond the Boulevard has provided a suite of services to our most vulnerable population that would have never been available otherwise.”
We want to take a moment to congratulate Paige and Care Beyond the Boulevard for their hard work and collaboration! Additionally, we are so thankful for Terrell McClendon of the Kansas City Fire Department and Paige Bush of the Jackson County Health Department for their help in administering vaccines. We look forward to future partnerships that allow us to continue to serve all Jackson County residents.
The CDC recommends that anyone experiencing homelessness (in addition to other groups) get vaccinated against hepatitis A. COVID-19 vaccines are recommended for everyone age 6 months and up. Primary care providers and the Jackson County Health Department both offer these vaccinations.
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