Heard on Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson

Vaccinating Detroit’s Homeless Population Against COVID-19 Proves Challenging

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Image credit: National Cancer Institute/Unsplash

Dr. Najibah Rehman, Medical Director of the Detroit Health Department, and Reverend Faith Fowler of Cass Community Social Services talk about the challenges and benefits of vaccinating the homeless population.

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At this point in the COVID-19 vaccination distribution plan, many prioritized groups such as health care workers, those who live in and work in nursing facilities and citizens over age 65 have received the COVID-19 vaccine. And, as of April 5 all Michigan residents 16 or older can get a COVID-19 vaccine.

We found that for the first dose only 35% of individuals were taking it, and then of that, 22% total, received both doses, and so we did find that we were not touching as many people as we could.” —Dr. Najibah Rehman, Chief Medical Director of the Detroit Health Department

However, state and federal agencies are starting to recognize the importance of prioritizing vaccination efforts of one particular segment of the population: people experiencing homelessness. The need to vaccinate this specific population is important because they experience not only underlying health conditions that put them at increased risk for COVID-19, but they may be staying in homeless shelters where it is common to live in proximity to others. 

Listen: Dr. Rehman and Rev. Faith Fowler discuss vaccination efforts among the homeless population.


Dr. Najibah Rehman is the Medical Director at the Detroit Health Department. Rehman talks about the effort to get as many people vaccinated as possible. ”There are about 1,900 sheltered individuals in Detroit. Only 35% of that number got the first shot … we were not catching as many people as we could. We have a lot of work to do,” says Rehman.

Rehman also discusses a system that tracks the homeless from shelter to shelter for scheduling or they have “people come to the Northwest Activities Center where we can also provide transportation for them to get their second dose or first dose, if they choose to start the series,” says Rehman.

Rev. Faith Fowler is the Executive Director of Cass Community Social Services. Fowler talks about the early efforts made by her organization in the pandemic to help those who were homeless. ”We have an outreach team that goes out seven nights a week to engage with men and women spending nights on Detroit streets … early in the pandemic, PPE was hard to come by … and outreach was reduced to transportation essentially,” says Fowler. She adds that since then, it’s still a challenge to meet the needs of homeless individuals, but it’s been getting easier as more resources have become available.”

Web story written by Allise Hurd

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