More than half of Brother Francis guests will be fully vaccinated by next week

Words on a building red building that say "Brother Francis Shelter. 1021 E. 3rd Ave."
Brother Francis Shelter in Anchorage, Alaska. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

More than half of the guests at Anchorage’s Brother Francis Shelter will be fully vaccinated by next week.

Lisa Aquino, head of Catholic Social Services, which runs the shelter, said residents have been very willing to take the vaccine.

A survey of shelter guests in January showed 80% either had a plan to get vaccinated or were interested in getting their shots. Brother Francis also provided education about the vaccine, which she said helped people make the decision.

“We did presentations, we had the providers from Southcentral Foundation give talks, our staff received training so they could talk one-on-one with our guests at Brother Francis shelter, answering their questions about the vaccine,” said Aquino.

About a dozen shelter guests, aged 65 and up, were able to be vaccinated when the first round opened in January. 

After the state opened vaccines to shelters last month, Southcentral Foundation stepped in to administer shots at the Brother Francis clinic.

“We signed a whole bunch of people up for it, brought in snacks and music for people waiting while they’re observed and just sort of tried to make a big deal out of the event,” said Brother Francis director David Rittenberg.

The shelter has a capacity of 72 guests and turnover has been relatively low during the pandemic. Rittenberg said that makes it easier to track down people for their second shots.

He said about half the staff has been vaccinated so far through their individual providers.

After outbreaks this fall that led to multiple hospitalizations and at least one death in the homeless community, Rittenberg said he’s hopeful that vaccines are starting to turn things around.

“It feels like we’re on the cusp of getting out of this. There’s still some work to do … but I’m hopeful and optimistic that we are on the path to get our community out.”

Rittenberg said the shelter is considering holding regular vaccine clinics if demand is high. 

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Kavitha George is the host of Alaska Morning News at Alaska Public Media. She also reports on business, labor and the economy. Reach her at kgeorge@alaskapublic.org.

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