MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – Howard Thompson rolled up his sleeve Tuesday and got his injection the COVID-19 vaccine.
It’s a scene that’s been repeated more than 200 million times in the United States.
What makes Thomson’s experience somewhat unusual is that he is homeless. He got the shot at Waterfront Rescue Mission in downtown Mobile because homeless advocates are making a push to reach a population that is transient and can be hard to reach.
“I was a little, you know, hesitant at first,” Thompson told FOX10 News. “But I feel like it’s for the greater good. If I could protect somebody else from getting it and you know – that’s more important than anything else right now.”
Franklin Primary Health Center staffed Tuesday’s clinic and has been holding clinics for the homeless at its facility on Spring Hill Avenue. Sharon Brammer, who is heading up the vaccination effort for Franklin, said the health agency had been using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“That was a, just a real winner for us because that would mean we didn’t have to try to schedule them back a second shot,” she said.
Brammer said that even before the government put the vaccine on hold last week amid safety concerns, though, word of a possible link to rare blood clots had prompted homeless clients to cancel their appointments.
Now, Franklin has switched to the Moderna vaccine. That means, health officials have to track down homeless recipients to get the second shot.
“It’s challenging, but it can be done, and like I said, Franklin has an excellent vaccine team,” she said, adding. “If we can get them in, we can get them vaccinated.”
And even if they do not return, Brammer said, even one dose of the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines has proven to offer pretty good protection against COVID-19.
Over at Waterfront Rescue Mission, operations director Kendell Young said participation has been pretty strong. The rescue mission vaccinated about 10 homeless men in about an hour. In trying to drum up participation over he last few days, he said, he found that many homeless folks have gotten the vaccine elsewhere.
“I was surprised to note that a lot of guys had already been vaccinated,” he said. “So I was kind of encouraged to know that the homeless community is really doing something to put an end to COVID.”
To incentivize participation, Young said, Waterfront Rescue Mission is waving the $10 free it usually charges for temporary overnight shelter. That means homeless men can get two free nights.
Thompson said he has been on the streets for about five months.
Thompson offered some of the same vaccine concerns voiced by the general public. For one, he said, he questioned whether the development had been rushed.
“We haven’t found a cure for the cold, but we found a cure for this (COVID-19) in a matter of months?” he said.
Thompson, who is black, also cited Alabama’s sometimes dark history with delivering health care to African-Americans. He noted that Mobile is not that far from the stie of the notorious Tuskegee experiments in which doctors monitored black syphilis patients for decades without treating them or informing them they were infected.
But Thomson, 44, said he came around because of the danger posed by the virus.
“Just seeing other people I know suffer and people passing, like made an impact on me,” he said. “And so, I put my own, like, issues to the side to deal with this, because I feel like it’s for the greater good.”
Thompson said one friend in particular contracted the disease last May. He said he left to visit her in Philadelphia but did not make it in time.
“The day before, she had died,” he said.
Unlike Thompson, homeless resident Terence Wheeler said he was not too concerned about the virus.
“I’ve not known anyone that’s got the virus,” he said. “I’ve heard people who have, though. It’s been all over the news.”
Wheeler said he also was leery of potential side effects. But he said he decided to get the shot anyway.
“Now I’m protected, and hopefully, I don’t get it,” he said.
Brammer said vaccine participation is coming from the portion of the estimated 300 Mobile-area homeless people who take advantage of services like meals and temporary shelter. She said Franklin Primary Health workers soon will venture out to homeless camps.
Franklin Primary Health will have a mobile unit at Highpoint Baptist Church in Eight Mile on Saturday. In addition, Housing First plans to offer vaccinations for the homeless at an event called Project Connect on May 27.