Getting vaccinated for the flu is often one of the last concerns for those experiencing homelessness or extreme poverty.
However, transmission of the virus is high among the homeless population; and the flu ran rampant through the streets of Ardmore last year, said Grace Center of Southern Oklahoma Day Center Director Karlie Harper.
As a response to last year’s rapid spread, the Grace Center partnered with the Carter County Health Department to provide vaccinations for its clients at no cost during the 2019 flu season.
A team of three health department staff members vaccinated nearly 20 Grace Center clients during the third week of October, Harper said.
“I think it was a big success. The time that we scheduled it, there were a lot of people here,” Harper said. “And I honestly think that the three women who came were so approachable and they were funny and kind and they really made the clients feel welcome and at ease.”
Several individuals were very nervous about receiving a flu shot, Harper said. Some of their fears stemmed from myths that often circulate during flu season, whereas individuals believe they can get the flu from the flu shot. While the shot may produce a brief fever, it is, however, impossible to get the flu from a flu shot because it is not a live virus, she said.
Being in the comfort of a familiar place at the Grace Center and having a foundation of trust built with individuals like Harper helped encourage clients to get vaccinated.
“Just me knowing them and kind of talking them into, just come back here ‘just come talk to these ladies’ and the ladies really talked to them and made them feel comfortable getting their vaccination,” Harper said.
Another cause for anxiety among some was having to fill out paperwork, Harper said. However, being in their comfort zone also made it easier for some who can’t read or write to seek help in filling out forms, she said. “Not having to go to a new place and say ‘I can’t fill this form out’ I think was beneficial.”
While Harper said she has not heard of any of the Grace Center’s clients contracting the flu yet, those experiencing homelessness are often more susceptible to it.
“They’re not your person taking daily vitamins, they don’t have great diets, they are more at risk,” Harper said. “They don’t always have the capability of washing their hands before they eat or after using the restroom and things like that.”
With several individuals experiencing homelessness staying in close quarters at shelters or day programs, the virus spreads quicker throughout those communities, as well. “Then they don’t always have access to medical care if they do get the flu,” Harper said.
This subsequently puts those individuals at a higher risk of developing life-threatening complications, leading to emergency room visits and hospitalization. “It puts a burden on our emergency rooms because that’s the only place where they can go to get treatment or they just try to suffer it out,” Harper said.
The Grace Center has provided flu shots for its clients in the past, however, the vaccination was not provided last year, Harper said. With the virus spreading rampantly last year, Harper said she hopes to continue to provide free vaccinations in the upcoming years and appreciates the Carter County Health Department’s efforts to provide access to the homeless population.
“I do definitely want to do it again,” Harper said. “We’re grateful that they came and that they were so gracious and kind and I look forward to partnering with them again in the future.”