Just three days after the much-anticipated, single-dose Covid-19 vaccines were shipped out, Dr. Rachel Evans, chief medical officer at Henry J. Austin Health Center, was at The Rescue Mission of Trenton with her team on Thursday, March 5, administering the vaccine to 100 individuals experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness.

“They were among the first individuals staying in a shelter in our country to be vaccinated,” said Barrett Young, chief executive officer of The Mission.

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100 people experiencing homelessness vaccinated at The Rescue Mission of Trenton
100 people experiencing homelessness vaccinated at The Rescue Mission of Trenton
100 people experiencing homelessness vaccinated at The Rescue Mission of Trenton

Mark Arnce, who grew up on a Sioux reservation in Davenport, Iowa, will turn 75 in May, has what he called “serious health concerns,” and has been staying in The Mission’s shelter for over a year. “I see this vaccine as life-saving — for all of us,” he said.

Carleen Stephenson, who has been staying in the shelter for just shy of a year with what she described as “some major medical troubles,” said she has been tested four times for the coronavirus, “and each time I get very worried. So getting the vaccine is an absolute blessing.”

And Calvin Armstrong, who has been at the shelter for the past three months because, as he said, “I’ve had my ups and downs,” added that he is “very grateful to get vaccinated because I lost a couple of people I love to the coronavirus, and I have a friend who has been battling it now for two months.”

“I am thrilled for Mark, for Carleen, for Calvin and for each of the other individuals who had the good fortune to be vaccinated,” Young said. “Those who stay at The Mission are among the most vulnerable people in our community. Each with a personal story. Many who have experienced a lifetime of economic poverty. Some who have just become homeless. Most with chronic health conditions.”

Beaming, he added, “This is extraordinary. Fortune has shined upon us all today. Introducing this new vaccine so quickly to those who are most at risk was only able to occur because of the depth of our relationships with the medical team at Henry J. Austin Health Center.”

Mercedes Campbell, LPN

Nurse Mercedes Campbell from Henry J. Austin Medical Center drawing up a vaccine.

“Barrett and I have been talking about this day for the past several weeks — ever since it was announced that the single-dose vaccine was close to receiving emergency use authorization from the Federal Drug Administration,” Evans said.

“Being able to provide this single-dose vaccine to those who are most vulnerable in our city is so important – especially now as we deal with the threat of new, emerging strains of Covid-19,” she added.

Still, she cautioned, “While we have not yet received a regular supply of vaccines, receiving this third option to administer to our community gives us hope that there is more to come.”

“In the beginning of January, we were thrilled when the medical team at Henry J. Austin Health Center offered our staff the opportunity to be vaccinated,” Young said. “However, since those who stay in our shelter are often transient, the two-dose approach presented scheduling challenges. So, this single-dose vaccine has become a game changer for us.”

Dr. Eric Williams, medical director at The Mission, added, “Without the deep relationships that exist between the Henry J. Austin Health Center and The Mission, we are talking about a significant segment of our population that would have no care – and nowhere to go.”

Williams said that people often talk about how a civilization can be measured by the progress it makes. “There is another measure of how advanced a civilization is, which is: How much we do we care for those in need? And how much do we help them?” he said.

“If nothing else, one of the underlying lessons of this pandemic is that we are all in this together, and here for each other,” Young said.