Members of the Reno Fire Department (RFD) and volunteers were at the temporary tent structure for unsheltered individuals on Fourth Street Tuesday, administering doses of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine.
In January, the Washoe County Health District reported an uptick in cases of the virus among Reno’s unsheltered population.
Kim Eastman, RFD’s COVID-19 emergency medical services coordinator,said the fire department had 130 doses to administer.
“Today, we’re out here vaccinating the homeless,” she said. “Any of our homeless population that we can get down here we’re trying to get vaccinated today. We have 130 doses of Johnson & Johnson [Janssen] down here today, and we’re hoping to get all of those filled.”
The fire department worked with Volunteers of America (VOA), which operates the tent shelter, to inform unsheltered individuals of the vaccine opportunity.
“We made flyers that we put on all of their beds yesterday [as well as talking with people] as they were walking around, trying to get to all of them as best as possible,” Eastman said.
She said the department and the VOA will work together to schedule additional vaccine events as soon as they receive additional doses of the Janssen vaccine.
“We don’t have a date scheduled as of right now,” Eastman said. “Johnson & Johnson is still coming in pretty slowly. But as we get the vaccine, we’ll be administering it as soon as possible.”
Eastman said the unsheltered population is a target for these events because it’s more difficult for those without permanent housing to get appointments, due in part to a lack of access to technology and the internet.
“We’re really trying to reach outside the box, look at different avenues, options to get as many people vaccinated as possible,” she said. “Lots of people have access to getting appointments but not everybody. And then, obviously, we have a lot of our vulnerable population here staying at the shelters where they’re in close proximity. They can’t do social distancing. They’re sharing food, things like that. So, we want to make sure that they’re taken care of as well.”
The decision to use the Janssen vaccine for unsheltered people was made largely because it’s a one-dose vaccine. Getting unsheltered and transient people scheduled for second doses of other vaccines would pose challenges.
“We don’t have to worry about them losing [vaccine] cards, things like that. One shot, and they’re taken care of,” Eastman said.
William Graheck was among the people there to get a vaccine. He said he definitely won’t be misplacing his card either, because he’ll need it.
“And then I have my little card, which I’m going to need for work because, here soon, they’re going to make it mandatory for everybody to have it to be employed by Amazon,” Graheck said. “I’m on actually leave of absence right now—but I will be going back to work for Amazon.”
He said he’s also glad that he’ll soon be protected from COVID-19.
“I’ve had the COVID twice,” he said. “I’ve tested positive twice in the last 15 months. So, I don’t want to go through that again. I was asymptomatic the first time. The second time, I had some symptoms. But it’s just the stress of waiting to get sick after you test positive is absolutely terrible. So, this is great—and it’s the one shot; it’s not the two shot.”
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.