The Wallich has joined Kaleidoscope, a drug, alcohol and mental health charity, and other partners in a call to the Welsh Government for a consistent and targeted vaccination programme for people experiencing homelessness in Wales.
COVID-19 vaccinations are currently being rolled out nationwide through the Welsh NHS, as a key element in the national strategy to bring the Coronavirus pandemic to an end.
The Welsh Government’s strategy, based upon advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination & Immunisation (JCVI), sets out nine priority groups for vaccination, according to the age profile and health conditions of each cohort.
The Government’s aim is to offer the vaccine to the first four priority groups by mid-February, and then complete all nine groups by later in the spring.
Whilst recognising the importance of vaccinating older people and those with existing health conditions as soon as possible, The Wallich remains concerned that many people experiencing homelessness in Wales could also be at significant risk of infection, but could be missed by the current vaccination strategy.
Chief executive of The Wallich, Dr Lindsay Cordery-Bruce, has highlighted the increased level of risk to staff and clients in temporary accommodation environments, and has called on the Welsh Government to set up a special targeted programme for people experiencing homelessness who face barriers when accessing healthcare.
“We have a fleet of welfare vehicles that could be used to make sure the vaccine goes out into the communities where it’s most needed”, she offered.
“When you don’t have an address, it can be hard to get or keep track of appointments. Successful vaccine rollout for people experiencing homelessness will sometimes mean reaching them on their terms.”
Kaleidoscope is a national charity providing support for people struggling with alcohol, substance misuse and mental health issues.
Kaleidocope chief executive, Martin Blakebrough, has said that his staff are trusted by clients, and already have experience of providing medical care, including administering injections.
“It seems to me that as we provide a lot of medical services to this client group it would be more sensible for us to provide that vaccination.
“We have nurses, and they provide vaccines for Hepatitis B, for example, so we’re not unused to giving jabs.”
Throughout 2020, the homelessness and housing support sector had great success in managing and mitigating the risks of spreading the coronavirus in all settings, meaning that positive cases have been thankfully few and far between.
Nonetheless, there is undoubtedly an increased level of risk when carrying out face-to-face support work, both for our staff and the people they support.
There is significant evidence linking homelessness with poorer health outcomes, and the life expectancy for individuals who sleep rough in the UK is just 45 years, nearly half that of the general population.
With this in mind, The Wallich, and organisations such as Cymorth Cymru, are calling upon the Welsh Government to explicitly include people experiencing homelessness as a priority group for the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine programme.
This also goes for frontline workers in the homelessness sector. 23% of staff at The Wallich have been vaccinated, which is too low considering the level of risk.
Dr Cordery-Bruce has said, “Our teams, who are working in temporary accommodation environments, are no less deserving than people who work in care homes.”
We have seen that different local authorities are currently managing their own priorities for the rollout, but we believe this needs to be consistent across Wales, and we stand ready to support clinicians and administrators in order to facilitate this.