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Hotel Grace shelter lobby turned into COVID vaccine clinic Tuesday

Sonia Y. Thomas, a staff member the Hotel Grace homeless shelter in Worcester, receives the COVID-19 vaccine from UMass Medical School student Mina Botros Tuesday.

WORCESTER — Residents of Ascension Church’s homeless shelter, UMass medical students and shelter staff spent Tuesday doing their best to maneuver through a tight shelter lobby when it became a COVID-19 vaccine distribution site.  

Sonia Y. Thomas of Worcester runs the showers at the shelter and is a recovery coach. Before agreeing to take the vaccine, Thomas said she had her concerns about the side effects before being set at ease by an explanation of the vaccine provided by Dr. Matilde Castiel, Worcester’s commissioner of health and human services.

“I wanted to hear more about the side effects and I wanted to be reassured,” Thomas said.

After getting the vaccine, Thomas felt relieved and noticed her anxiety level lowering. She encouraged members of the Black community, like herself, and those in recovery to consider those they care about when deciding whether to get the vaccine. 

Dr. Matilde Castiel, the city's commissioner of Health and Human Services, and the Rev. Richard Gonzalez, executive director of Net of Compassion, compare lists of names of the homeless people and staff receiving the COVID-19 vaccine at his Hotel Grace homeless shelter in Worcester Tuesday.

“Take it for your family and your community. You’d rather have that extra protection,” Thomas said, “Especially people of color and in recovery.”

Congregate care and shelter programs are in Phase 1 for receiving the vaccine, as outlined in the Massachusetts Vaccination Advisory Group principles for equitable COVID-19 vaccine administration. Tuesday was the first day residential congregate care programs and emergency shelter programs, including homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters and veterans’ shelters, could receive the vaccine.  

Ascension Church’s Hotel Grace shelter was the first shelter in the city to start vaccinating. The medical team came with 60 vaccines to administer to willing shelter residents, shelter staff and some nearby group home residents. Medical students from UMass Medical School were on the site to administer the vaccine. Castiel said congregate living situations and the higher likelihood of health issues for homeless people make getting the vaccine to the shelters a priority. 

Billy Riley, manager of St. John’s Food for the Poor program, gets screened to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the Hotel Grace homeless shelter in Worcester Tuesday.

“They’re living in this type of congregate living where everybody is together, they’re out in the community, they come back. They can expose people if they have COVID. The riskiest situation is being in this type of situation,” Castiel said, “They carry a lot of the burden of disease. There’s lots of people with lung disease, liver disease, that makes them at an even greater risk to have severe effects with COVID.” 

Read More: Hotel Grace shelter lobby turned into COVID vaccine clinic Tuesday

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