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Omaha shelter one of first in U.S. to start COVID-19 vaccinations for homeless

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    OMAHA, Nebraska (WOWT) — On Wednesday, the Open Door Mission became one of the very first homeless shelters in the country to vaccinate residents and staff against COVID-19.

Three days before his birthday — and in between his cancer treatments — Clinton Pope was finally able to get his first dose of the Moderna vaccine Wednesday at Open Door Mission.

“For him, this is very dangerous; this is life and death. Because of his underlying health conditions, his age, his color… The fatality rate is very high. And so, this is the best defense for Clinton and people like Clinton,” said Candace Gregory, president and CEO of Open Door Mission.

Gregory, who has known Pope for years now, said seeing him and others at Open Door Mission getting vaccinated feels like a milestone.

“I don’t know what’s more exciting: that our kids, who have been home from school for almost 11 months, went back yesterday; or that today is our vaccination day. Because it’s kind of a toss-up, to be honest,” Gregory said.

On Wednesday, Nebraska Methodist College and the Douglas County Health Department teamed up to provide 70 doses to frontline staff and residents at the shelter, making it one of the first in the country to vaccinate the homeless population.

With less than 1% of residents contracting the virus, and few fatalities, the success at the Open Door Mission is drawing national attention.

“Mathematically, this place should have been devastated,” said Dr. Robert Marbut Jr., executive director of the U.S. Council on Homelessness. “You know… If you go back a year, we were talking about it. That’s what every prediction was. And what (Gregory) did: She was very strict. And these protocols — she put it in early; she followed them. It has paid off, and it has saved lives.”

Marbut, a presidential appointee, felt so inspired by the mission that he came here to take part in the vaccinations alongside Pope and others.

“It was great! It is so cool, it’s just a miracle how fast this has been developed, and it’s already getting into arms,” Marbut said.

DCHD and the college plan to give more vaccinations at Open Door Mission when they receive additional doses.

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