Vaccination rates in the United States continue to climb as more people gain access to the necessary doses. As of July 7, 2021, 158 million Americans are fully vaccinated and 331 million doses have been given. In Florida, 10 million people are fully vaccinated, roughly 47% of the population.
However, while many adults and teens are receiving their shots, there is a segment of the population that may get left behind. Homeless youth have a much harder time accessing healthcare treatment – and have a much higher distrust of institutions providing doses.
How can homeless teens get vaccinated against COVID-19? How can providers create a safe and welcoming experience for them? Here’s what you need to know.
Do Teens Need Guardian Consent to Receive the Vaccine?
One of the biggest issues that homeless youth face when getting vaccinated is having parental consent. However, the age of consent is a state issue. According to the CDC:
“There is no federal legal requirement for caregiver consent for COVID-19 vaccination or any other vaccination,” the guidance states. “However, COVID-19 vaccine must be administered according to applicable state and territorial vaccination laws, including those related to consent.”
In Florida, teens can give consent for treatment when they turn 18. Youth who are younger than 18 will need to bring a parent or guardian to receive their vaccinations.
Other states have different guidelines for when teens can give consent for medical care. In Tennessee, the age for medical consent is 14. That being said, some states are creating specific guidelines for COVID-19 vaccines. Younger teenagers might not be able to get vaccinated without a parent or guardian based on these rules.
Which Vaccine Can Teens Receive?
Currently, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only one that is authorized for individuals 12 years of age and older. Teens who want to receive the vaccine will need to make sure they visit a clinic that offers the Pfizer dose.
For homeless youth who are 18 and older, any vaccine should be fine. The CDC is clear that one vaccine isn’t better than the others for those experiencing homelessness. Every person has different side effects and reactions. Just because one person isn’t affected by the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine doesn’t mean another person won’t have significant side effects.
However, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single-dose treatment. This might be the best option for individuals who can’t make a return appointment after a month and for those who are afraid of needles and medical providers. Many people who don’t like getting shots opted for the Johnson & Johnson dose so they only needed to go through it once.
How Can Providers Help Homeless Teens Get Vaccinated?
If you operate a local community organization that works with homeless youth (like Family Resources) consider working with local healthcare providers to offer vaccinations and help teens and young adults learn about their options. The CDC has clear guidelines for helping local homeless communities – and particularly homeless youth – receive their vaccinations.
Never Deny Services
Withholding services until community members are vaccinated will only hurt your local homeless community. These policies can also make homeless youth wary of the vaccines and distrustful of healthcare providers.
“Some people experiencing homelessness may not become vaccinated… because of distrust in the health care system—potentially stemming from previous experiences of racism or discrimination in health care,” Nicole DuBois, a researcher at the Urban Institute. “Whether someone has been vaccinated should not determine whether they receive services.”
A shower or a hot meal can make a big difference to someone experiencing homelessness. This can also help you build trust with individuals and broach the subject of vaccination.
Don’t Limit Vaccine Drives to One Day
According to the CDC, providers who want to offer COVID-19 vaccination drives should hold multiple events within the community. This will give homeless youth time to consider whether they want the vaccine and if they can trust the people administering it. If they only have one chance to receive a vaccine, their wariness might keep them away.
Hosting multiple vaccine drives can make receiving the dose more accessible. Someone who can’t travel across town one day might be closer to your resource center a few days later.
The CDC also emphasizes the importance of having multiple record-keeping systems for vaccine providers. Electronic record systems, in particular, can help healthcare providers check the status of someone requesting a vaccine.
“If a person arrives for a subsequent dose of COVID-19 vaccine and does not have their vaccination record card, review the immunization information system and other record-keeping systems for documentation.”
This ensures homeless youth are able to receive their booster shots and become fully vaccinated even if they lose their record cards.
Be Transparent About the Vaccination Process
Make sure you provide clear information about the vaccine and the dosage process. You can also use this time to encourage staff and volunteers to share their vaccination experience with others, building up social support. Hearing personal stories and forming these emotional connections can help people overcome their distrust of medical treatment and help homeless teens get vaccinated
Avoid downplaying any potential symptoms of the vaccine. While you don’t want to scare the people you work with, you can’t make false promises that they won’t experience symptoms. This could foster distrust in the future.
Keep Following COVID-19 Best Practices
As the state of Florida continues to reopen and lift mask mandates, you may be tempted to relax your own guidelines for social distancing and sanitation. However, the CDC recommends that communities continue to follow these practices as the virus continues to spread. Even if a large part of your organization is vaccinated, it is still possible to transmit the virus.
To learn more about COVID-19 and homelessness, including vaccinations while homeless, turn to these resources by the CDC:
The CDC frequently updates these pages with new questions and policies as they arise during the pandemic.
Talk to Homeless Youth About Their Options
Information is incredibly powerful in helping homeless teens get vaccinated. Talk to youth in your community about their vaccination options and the protocols to get inoculated. Answer questions about side effects and share your personal experiences.
Also, remember that homelessness is not a monolith. Many teens hide their situations from others or couch surf in order to get by. The reality of homelessness might not match your current perceptions.
If you have any questions about helping homeless youth in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, or Bradenton, reach out to Family Resources. We are happy to help you or any teens you know who need assistance.