Joe Harris, a 91-year-old Gainesville resident experiencing homelessness, believes if he got COVID-19, he would have died.
But on Wednesday, Harris was relieved to receive his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at St. Francis House, a local homeless shelter.
Gainesville Fire Rescue administered 17 second doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to its staff and members of the Gainesville emergency homeless shelter Wednesday morning.
One month before, the same group received their first doses of the vaccine at St. Francis House located at South Main Street, said GFR’s Community Resource Paramedicine Program Coordinator Ariella Bak. GFR has facilitated vaccinations provided by the Alachua County Department of Health since early January.
Harris, who’s been a regular participant in St. Francis House’s services for the past four years, said when the shelter offered him the opportunity to receive the first dose of the vaccine last month, he immediately accepted and signed up.
“I signed up because I know that if I get COVID, I’m going to die,” he said. “My body can’t handle it.”
From 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., Bak and two other GFR paramedics helped patients fill out forms to get them vaccinated and delivered the shots. Groups of two to three patients came into the closed-off room inside the St. Francis House building for a quick 15 minute session of reading through the paperwork and receiving the vaccine.
After getting the shot, patients sat in folding chairs 6 feet apart from each other for up to 10 minutes, so the paramedics could monitor them to make sure they were OK.
GFR has done a majority of their vaccinations at the homes of city residents who have mobility impairments and can’t get the vaccine anywhere else, she said. GFR follows the state mandate by getting the vaccine to healthcare workers, first responders, teachers and residents 65 and older.
“But our goal is to get the vaccine out to as many people as we can,” Bak said.
Executive Director of St. Francis House Lauri Schiffbauer said while the shelter is prioritizing homeless people who are 65 and older, shelter employees have also received the vaccine.
The shelter provides emergency housing to single women and families with children, and other services, like daily meals and social security applications, to all homeless individuals.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the shelter clashed with the Alachua County Health Department when Schiffbauer asked to have workers recognized as essential ones. ACHD did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.
“When it came time to get the vaccine, there was a bit of a struggle,” Schiffbauer said. “The health department did not want to administer the vaccines to anybody that they considered weren’t essential workers.”
Schiffbauer said the health department realized the shelter’s workers serve many people face-to-face who are homeless and have mental health problems. Together they worked out a plan to get the support and resources needed for these frontline workers.
Brenda Chamberlain, a 49-year-old Gainesville resident, works with the homeless assistance program Continuum of Care. Since the start of the pandemic, Chamberlain said that she has tirelessly worked with the homeless community who are especially in need of assistance during this time.
As a frontline worker, Chamberlain said she was very excited to get the vaccine and do her part in protecting the community.
Barry Vaughn, a maintenance worker at St. Francis House, said he feels good about getting the vaccine. The 64-year-old Gainesville resident said he is hopeful it will be effective and he will have immunity from the virus as soon as possible.
“The vaccine doesn’t hurt at all, and it will keep the old COVID off of me,” he said.
For these essential workers, elderly Gainesville citizens and homeless individuals, being able to get the vaccine is an opportunity that they were not sure they would get. Getting it gives them hope for the possibility of returning to normalcy, or even just surviving the pandemic.
Contact Jiselle Lee at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @jiselle_lee.
Jiselle Lee is a freshman journalism student and a news assistant for the Independent Alligator. She loves trying new restaurants around Gainesville in her free time.