Denver mayor, city officials urge immediate COVID vaccines for the homeless

COVID-19 Vaccine

A homeless veteran holds a sign in Denver.

DENVER (KDVR) — Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and city officials continue to push for making people experiencing homelessness a priority in COVID-19 vaccination policies.

Instead of using the current age-based approach, Hancock and the Denver Joint Task Force said in a memo to state officials last week that a location-based prioritization strategy should be implemented to get COVID vaccines right away to homeless residents.

“Our unhoused neighbors have been among our most vulnerable residents throughout the pandemic,” Hancock said in a media statement. “It is critical that we accelerate immunizations not just for people experiencing homelessness, but also for the service providers, case managers and others who work closest with them, which will support the health of the general public as well.”

According to the task force, a location-based prioritization strategy would allow all people at a shelter, motel, managed campsite or unsanctioned encampment to receive the vaccine at the same time, regardless of age.

The task force believes this would be a much more effective and efficient way to vaccinate an estimated 6,151 guests and staff of shelters, unsheltered people living in encampments, and service providers across Denver.

With the hospitalization rate for people experiencing homelessness three times that of the general population, the task force said in its memo, “there is an urgent need to vaccinate people experiencing homelessness and service provider staff to induce herd immunity to protect people at risk and prevent large outbreaks in congregate settings. Prioritization of people experiencing homelessness will also benefit our Denver metro region population by decreasing the rate of community transmission.”

The task force memo follows a Jan. 7 letter from Mayor Hancock to Gov. Polis proposing adjustments to the state’s vaccine distribution plan that included giving higher priority to people living in congregate settings such as homeless shelters.

The task force includes representatives from the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, the Denver Department of Housing Stability, Denver Public Health at Denver Health and Hospital Authority, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and other Homeless Leadership Council providers.

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