Oxford takes a lead in vaccinating homeless people

Published: Thursday, 18th March 2021

More than 140 people experiencing homelessness were given a Covid-19 vaccine in Oxford in February as the city became one of the first in the UK to offer jabs to the vulnerable group.

Oxford City Council, Oxfordshire County Council, the NHS, St Mungo’s and other partners organised two immunisation sessions: One at Floyds Row on 10 February and another at O’Hanlon House the following day.

In advance of the sessions, outreach teams from St Mungo’s and Homeless Oxfordshire encouraged clinically vulnerable homeless people to attend. They were supported by officers from the City Council who spoke to known rough sleepers and ensured they knew when and where they could receive the vaccine.

On the days themselves, Luther Street Medical Centre worked closely with Summertown Health Centre and the Beaumont Street Practice to carry out the vaccinations, while the City Council provided volunteer stewards.

All those involved in the frontline of service delivery at the sessions have been offered the vaccine.

On Tuesday 16 March people who refused or missed the timeslot the first time around – or are new to homelessness – were able to receive their initial dose at a further session held at Floyds Row.

Further vaccination sessions

The vaccinations in Oxford were carried out a month earlier than many areas of the country because, until early March, the government did not consider homelessness as a reason for priority access to the jabs.

Experiencing homelessness was moved to priority group 6 – alongside people aged 16 to 65 in an at-risk group – on 11 March. This followed advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation that people who are homeless or sleeping rough are likely to have underlying comorbidities and should be considered high risk as a result of their circumstances alone.

Homeless people in Oxford have already been offered a second opportunity to receive their first vaccination.

Housing vulnerable homeless people during the pandemic

As the pandemic struck last March, the government issued an Everyone In directive for English councils to provide emergency housing for vulnerable homeless people, including those living in shared hostel spaces.

The City Council moved quickly to comply and secured 121 self-contained hotel and student rooms within two weeks. As temporary agreements with hotels and colleges came to an end in July, the council leased two blocks to provide 118 rooms of interim housing for another year, managed by St Mungo’s.

Interim housing is a bridge from emergency accommodation and the streets, providing a breathing space for people to get the support they need to leave homelessness behind. So far, the council has housed 335 people under ‘everyone in’ arrangements and 158 of them have been supported into more permanent housing.

Together with the provision of emergency SWEP (Severe Weather Emergency Protocol) beds for those experiencing rough sleeping, Everyone In provided an unprecedented opportunity to engage positively with the city’s homeless population encouraging them to accept the vaccine and to register for GP services, as St Mungo’s and Homeless Oxfordshire routinely do.

Comment

“Oxford is committed to helping and protecting the most vulnerable in our community and vaccination plays a vital role in achieving this.

“Homeless people experience some of the poorest health outcomes in England with high levels of morbidity and early mortality. The average age of death of a person who dies while homeless is just 47 for a man and 43 for a woman, decades lower than the general population. So we decided to act quickly in accordance with the flexibility the guidance provided. In doing so, we have not only offered those who have experienced rough sleeping an early layer of protection against Covid-19. We have also taken a significant step towards keeping the wider community safe from the virus.”

Councillor Mike Rowley, cabinet member for affordable housing and housing the homeless