An allocation of 100 doses of Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine is being used this week to vaccinate Butte’s transient population.
The Butte Rescue Mission, where people come to kick addiction or stay in the emergency shelter, had a scare a month back. After riding out the first year of the pandemic without recording a single positive case among guests, three tested positive and many more had to be quarantined.
In response, groups working with vulnerable populations like Action Inc. and the mission teamed up with Southwest Montana Community Health Center, which already offered a weekly health clinic at the mission, as well as St. James Healthcare and Butte-Silver Bow. Together, they made vaccination of the transient population a priority.
The single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine was approved right on cue and is a perfect fit for the population at stake.
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“Because you only need one dose, it's ideal for people who cannot keep appointments, or would find a barrier maybe to that second appointment and be inadequately vaccinated," CHC nurse Sarah Borduin said.
Many targeted by the new vaccination program may just be traveling through, she said.
Those without permanent homes are often forced to live in communal space like the mission, where the virus has potential to spread. They often face other health problems which put them at a higher risk of hospitalization from infection. Getting those folks vaccinated makes the entire community safer, said Brayton Erickson, the mission’s co-director.
“To keep people healthy who are in a vulnerable situation and who come in contact with a lot of other people, it's a huge win for the community," Erickson said.
After vaccinating 15 people at the mission Wednesday night, Borduin vaccinated another seven on Thursday. More vaccinations are planned, and they are occurring day by day as Borduin and her partners locate more members of the transient community.
Misty Johnston, operations manager for the mission, picked up Kristen Lundberg, 36, from her temporary place of residence in Butte just in time for a vaccine on Thursday.
After Lundberg answered the necessary questions, Borduin gave her the good news.
“You have won yourself a Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” Borduin said, and gave Lundberg her shot.
Lundberg recently left a long-term rehab center and moved back to Butte. For the past five years, she’s never had what she considered a permanent home. She comes by the mission for meals from time to time. At the moment, she’s set up in a safe home.
“Just a few months ago, I couldn’t say the same thing,” she said.
As a result, she was recruited for a vaccine on Thursday.
She’s familiar with the unique problems the transient population faces.
“In these situations, you're bound to be with a bunch of other people. There's no way to control that. So if we can each do our part and get a vaccine then it lowers that risk," she said.
It’s not just the spread of the virus but what it could do to transient individuals, she said.
“A lot of people seem to have health problems and don't readily have health care available. So if they were to get COVID, it would be detrimental. I don't know if a lot of them would survive,” she said.
In addition to members of the transient population, mission staff who didn’t have it already were also given the opportunity to be vaccinated.
Braden Gibson, kitchen manager at the mission, seized the chance, and took his shot on Thursday. The mission had an impressive streak without positive cases, and nobody at the center is known to have COVID now, but Gibson was there when the virus finally got inside.
“It's basically what ultimately made my decision for me,” he said. “That's the whole reason why I got it, is just kind of the guilt if I ended up getting sick and spreading it throughout.”
CHC’s twice weekly clinics at the mission have for six months provided basic health care to Butte’s transient population, a development that has made all the difference to those without transportation or funds to seek it elsewhere, Erickson said.
Now, as long as supplies last, vaccinations are part of the program. The collaboration making it happen has a simple mission.
“Our ultimate goal is health,” Erickson said.