CINCINNATI — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers homeless shelters a congregate setting similar to nursing homes, meaning they're a top priority for vaccines, but Ohio doesn't see it that way.
Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, said the topic of vaccinations has been a constant conversation.
"Places where you can't necessarily sleep six feet away from the next person, where everybody shares the same restrooms, and where everybody eats in the same location, the state of Ohio has decided different from the CDC that those locations are not congregate,” Spring said.
The CDC’s advisory committee on immunization practices considers staff at homeless shelters to be essential workers. It also says jurisdictions can choose to vaccinate those workers as well as the residents at the same time because both have a shared increased risk of disease.
So far, there's no plan to do so in Ohio. The Ohio Department of Health said they're working with the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio to come up with an idea for the future.
Hamilton County Public Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman said local agencies have already voiced their concern to Gov. Mike DeWine’s office.
"I know many health departments, including Hamilton County Public Health and the Cincinnati Health Department, have brought this issue up with Governor DeWine's office as well as the Ohio Department of Health,” Kesterman said.
"They should have their own tier, said Brian Vanderhorst, chief operating officer for Cincinnati Health Network. “It should be available to them at the same time as a nursing home or some of the other organizations like that."
Vanderhorst said the organization receives close to 100 doses a week. The network even built a clinic at its McMicken Street offices back in January for testing and vaccines. Not all 100 shots are for people experiencing homelessness.
"We also make it available to the community,” Vanderhorst said. “Our goal is to be able to vaccinate as much of the homeless community as we can, but the excess is being used for others."
Kentucky and Indiana plan to vaccinate people experiencing homelessness during phase two of their vaccine rollouts.