Outreach teams with the city and county are making a coordinated effort to vaccinate hard-to-reach populations in San Diego, including homebound seniors and the homeless.
NBC 7 attended an outreach event in Balboa Park, where the San Diego Police Department’s HOT (Homeless Outreach Team) set up pop-up tents, staffed by county public health nurses.
Throughout the morning, HOT team officers sought out clients in the Downtown/East Village area. Officers discussed available services, which now include at COVID-19 vaccination, with the people they contacted
Those who agreed were taken by van to the pop-up tents in Balboa Park. Among those getting vaccinated was Alejandro Dumas.
“They said they got this outreach place over there, and I said ‘Sure, let's go check it out,’” Dumas said.
Dumas, 50, said he had previously had doubts about receiving the vaccine and declined a shot through the VA. But more recently, he had a change of heart and, ultimately, was persuaded by the HOT team.
“They said, 'We have the shots,' and, well, the single shot, that’s the one I wanted," Dumas said. "I didn’t want to have to go back twice to get another damn shot, so I’m glad I did."
Critical to the success of the program is the availability of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The one-and-done nature of the vaccine makes the job easier, since many in this population could be hard to locate for a second dose.
Since March 15, when the homeless population became eligible for the vaccine, 628 homeless people have been vaccinated with the J&J vaccine, according to the county.
The person in charge of the HOT team said that officers do not force clients to get the vaccination but, rather, communicate that the shot is available.
“As part of our outreach efforts, we’re going out there and letting the clients know that we’ve got the vaccinations back here,” said Lt. Brian Avera. "If they would like the vaccine, they can come back here with us at a stationary point."
Not all people contacted are interested in talking to officers, let alone receive a vaccination.
“Some may be angry, upset, but I would just say, 'Yyou need it to survive this COVID, because COVID is a killer, definitely need to be vaccinated against it,' ” client Mario Kotto said.
Kotto, 41, said he has been living on the streets for two months and recently received his vaccination through the HOT team.
“I was literally talking to the HOT team myself, and that’s when one of the officers grabbed me and told me about this event here, and I said, 'Sure, not a problem. I’ll even get the vaccine, that’s not a problem,' ” Kotto said.
As for Dumas, he held up his newly received vaccination card and called it a proud addition to his few possessions.
“They did a great job," Dumas said. "They go out driving around, letting people know they’re out there and make sure you get settled and the help you need,” Dumas said.