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Salt Lake VA makes sure homeless veterans get a shot at COVID vaccine

SOUTH SALT LAKE, Utah — The Salt Lake VA is working to make sure homeless veterans get their shot at the COVID-19 vaccine, through a series of vaccination clinics in the area. 

A shot in the arm for homeless veterans

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 11% of the homeless adult population in the United States are veterans, and an estimated 51% of homeless veterans also have disabilities, which potentially puts them in a higher-risk category for COVID-19.  

Clinics serving homeless veterans or those experiencing recent homelessness started operating last week in northern Utah and will continue for another couple of weeks. Mitch Harris, a social worker for the homeless medical team with the Salt Lake VA, said most of the veterans have jumped at the chance to get that shot in the arm.

“All of the veterans that have showed up are very enthusiastic,” Harris said. “Of course, they’re very anxious, I think like a lot of people are.” 

In total, clinics set up by the VA will administer vaccines to around 120 local veterans all over northern Utah.

“A lot of veterans we work with have disadvantages and barriers, so we put these plans into place to help reach those veterans,” Harris said. “Otherwise they might not be able to get to the VA to receive the vaccine or their local health department.”

Weeks of work, and more to come

Case managers spent weeks working with veterans to help set up the transportation and logistics. 

“Some are taking public transit, some are walking, some are getting rides from their case managers. We’ve been working on it for a few weeks,” Harris said. 

The first vet in line Wednesday at the clinic in South Salt Lake was Richard Bell, a US Army veteran who served in the 70s and regaled the nurses with some of his story while he waited for the shot. Bell said receiving the vaccine means a lot. 

“Once I’m protected  I can go and do things that I haven’t been able to do for a long time,” he said. “I feel like a hermit. I’ve been locked up in my place, and the only place I go is the grocery store – and it gets old.”

The VA plans four more clinics after the one Wednesday in South Salt Lake. They’ll do it again, too — when it’s time for those veterans to come back to receive their second dose of the vaccine. 

VA Medical Centers nationwide offer support for homeless veterans, including rental assistance vouchers. More information is available on the Salt Lake VA website

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus spreads person to person, similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Wear a mask to protect yourself and others per CDC recommendations.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet).
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities).
  • Obtain a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A 

Utah’s Coronavirus Information 

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States

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