San Jose sees big turnout for second dose vaccines among homeless community

Organizers in San Jose held a second vaccine clinic for the homeless on Friday at city hall.

The hope was that the 500 people who got their first doses in April, would come back for their second. As it turns out, they were pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

For days leading up to the clinic, advocates, many of them formerly homeless, canvassed encampments around the city, talking up the merits of the COVID vaccine.

"I tell them that if you don't get it then it's never going to stop. And then you could catch it and give it to someone else that might end up passing away. Plus if you come to the city event there is always extra for you," said volunteer Zack Anderson.

Extras, like lunch and hygiene kits, assistance getting into shelters, and even help with signing up for stimulus checks.

"We know the vaccine is one way for us to head to recovery, but I think the other component is making sure that we lift our communities up, especially our most vulnerable," said Anh Tran, San Jose's vaccination task force director.

What organizers didn't expect, was that they'd have to lure the same people twice.

Their prior clinic in April coincided with a freeze on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. That meant a quick pivot to Moderna and the need for a second shot.

"So the challenge is getting people to come out to the rotunda for their first dose, and then coming back again today for their second dose," said Tran.

Advocates knew it wouldn't be easy.

"People are just really busy trying to survive. So they're not keeping in mind, 'Oh today's my appointment day to get my second shot.' So it's important that you have advocates and other unhoused people going out there to remind them," said Shaunn Cartwright of the Unhoused Response Group.

Melvin, who is currently homeless, said he got the message loud and clear.

"I found out from my friends. They told me about this and from flyers also," he said.

And so he showed up, happy to get his shot.

In fact at the end of the day, the majority of those expected to show up did.

Advocates said the second shot took less convincing than the first.

"A lot of people that I squatted with when I was homeless came for their first shot and now it's much easier to get them back for their second shot," said Anderson. "So what I did was I passed out the flyers in the same area and went to the same encampments that I went to for the first shot and got people to come back for the second shot."

Advocates say their hard work paid off. Organizers had given out 540 shots back in April. On Friday, they administered 510, and all but 32 were second doses.

The city is hosting another clinic at the Tully Library on Sunday.