Unique vaccine program offers hope going forward

DESC’s Director of Nursing had a nice surprise on March 29: the agency’s order of 400 doses of Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine had arrived.

A nurse in personal protective gear holds up a vial of vaccine.
DESC nurses have been vaccinating eligible and willing staff and clients

The team from DESC immediately began setting up clinics for clients at the Red Lion and Exhibition Hall. By April 2 they had vaccinated 157 clients, and planned to set up more vaccine clinics.

The two temporary shelters are “settings where people who are experiencing homelessness live and receive services,” language from the vaccine eligibility criteria.

DESC is also sheltering people who are over 60, and people with multiple co-morbidities, underlying conditions and disabilities, qualifications for receiving the vaccine.

“It’s really exciting,” Director of Nursing Alix Van Hollebeke says. “I feel much better about their safety, and everyone’s safety.”

The agency is also expecting more Moderna for those who are due for their second doses.

With a medical team and an established adult vaccination program, DESC is the only standalone homelessness service provider able to provide the shots. After the initial vaccine supply arrived in January, DESC prioritized vaccinating agency staff, staff from Full-Life, REACH and the Compass Center, as well as elderly clients, Alix says.

Public Health, Kelley-Ross pharmacy (our pharmacy partner), Swedish Hospital and UW Medicine were also helpful in getting DESC staff fully vaccinated, and Harborview provided some extra doses for eligible clients.

The medical program, concerned about staff members who have been on the front lines of COVID all year, pushed for DESC to become vaccine providers.

“We had to advocate for ourselves to make a point that we qualify for this,” she says. “We ourselves are exposed.”

Harborview Medical Center and Walgreens will be holding several clinics in the coming weeks at DESC Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) sites. DESC nurses will be vaccinating clients out of our main behavioral health clinic and at the Crisis Solutions Center, as well as reaching out again to all of our shelters, PSH and some encampments. DESC will be able to vaccinate everyone who is living in our supportive housing.

“What we’ve done is really kind of special and unique, because we are not a big health care system, it’s kind of how we do everything at DESC, it’s very grassroots, we have a very passionate staff,” Alix says. “We sought out this opportunity, we didn’t wait for it to come to us. We take particular pride in that.”

“We have to be creative and proactive to bring services like this to people,” says DESC Executive Director Daniel Malone.

You can read about a couple of DESC’s recent shelter vaccination clinics in the Seattle Times.