As COVID-19 vaccine rolls out, senior Sri Jaladi launches a notification drive for the unhoused and the uninsured

Senior+Sri+Jaladi+helps+a+member+of+City+Hope+Shelter+register+for+a+COVID-19+vaccine+notification.+Jaladi+has+been+conducting+COVID-19+safety+workshops+at+City+Hope+since+the+onset+of+the+pandemic.+%E2%80%9CEven+though+people+wear+masks+and+their+cots+are+spaced+six+feet+apart+%5Bin+the+City+Hope+Shelter%5D%2C+social-distancing+is+not+completely+feasible+in+congregate+shelters%2C%E2%80%9D+Jaladi+said.+

Courtesy of Sri Jaladi

Senior Sri Jaladi helps a member of City Hope Shelter register for a COVID-19 vaccine notification. Jaladi has been conducting COVID-19 safety workshops at City Hope since the onset of the pandemic. “Even though people wear masks and their cots are spaced six feet apart [in the City Hope Shelter], social-distancing is not completely feasible in congregate shelters,” Jaladi said.

Ten months into the pandemic, the long-awaited vaccine to combat the virus is finally here. On Dec. 11, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued the first emergency use authorization (EUA) for a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 for individuals 16 years of age and older. However, confusion has arisen about who will get access and when. Senior Sri Jaladi aims to resolve this issue. Jaladi has launched a website, www.covidvaccinenotify.com, where people can register to be notified when the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available in their area.

“Although our government has declared the COVID-19 vaccine will be free to everyone who wants one, I’m concerned that certain groups of people may not be aware when the vaccine comes out. Particularly the unhoused and those without medical insurance, because they don’t have a doctor or pharmacy that will call them. A lack of access to regular medical care and follow up makes things even harder. I created this notification platform to attempt to solve these problems,” Jaladi said.

According to the Missouri Department of Health the vaccine will be distributed in three phases. Phase 1A is for healthcare workers and first responders, which is already underway. Phase 1B is for people 65 years and older, and for individuals who are medically at a high-risk, which has just been initiated. Phase  two will be for populations at increased risk, such as inmates and the unhoused. Phase three, will include all Missouri residents.

“It is difficult to keep track of when it is your turn since it’s based on several factors such as age, underlying medical conditions [and] housing situation, and this platform cuts through all that,” Jaladi said. “It is important that everyone is kept safe and everyone has the access to the vaccine.”

Since his sophomore year, Jaladi has been helping people facing homelessness through tools of entrepreneurship. He addresses the homeless as ‘unhoused’ and urges others to shift their vocabulary as well.

Waiting for people to gather, Jaladi sets up his poster about the COVID-19 vaccine notification drive prior to talking to the residents of Biddle House, an overnight emergency shelter for the unhoused. Jaladi started the drives at shelters across the St. Louis area during his winter break. “People in shelters often move places, and it is hard to keep them informed, particularly on something like the pandemic where things are rapidly evolving,” Jaladi said. (Courtesy of Sri Jaladi)

“The term ‘homeless’ can be stigmatizing and often brings negative stereotypes to mind, many of which aren’t true. Unhoused, on the other hand, is more respectful, and a more accurate description of the circumstance that this is a temporary housing state and can be overcome,” Jaladi said.

With the onset of the pandemic, Jaladi’s efforts did not slow down as he stepped up to meet the needs of the community. Jaladi conducted virtual COVID-19 safety workshops for shelters, after noticing that the unhoused lacked access to updated information and safety measures against COVID-19. Additionally, he began “COVID-19 relief for the unhoused,” a joint effort of community volunteers and members of shelters to sew masks. Over 1600 hand-sewn masks were made and donated thus far to shelters and encampments around St. Louis.

“Several members of shelters came forward to sew masks not only for other unhoused individuals but also for health care providers and essential workers. Seeing so many people, short on money, resources and time helping others in need, inspires me to do more,” Jaladi said.

Jaladi is currently hosting registration drives at shelters for the unhoused to bring awareness and to help people sign up to be notified about the availability of the vaccine. While many are interested in getting the vaccine, questions also remain. Jaladi’s site, CovidVaccineNotify, also provides links to the CDC and the Missouri COVID vaccine pages for more information.

“Fighting homelessness and struggling to get back [to routine] is stressful and challenging. The COVID-19 [pandemic] did not make the situation any better. I hope my program will help people, by taking the worries around the when and where about the vaccine off their plate,” Jaladi said.

People in shelters that cannot attend a drive can access the form on their own devices or on shelter-owned devices. The form does not require private information such as name, employment or address and takes under a minute to fill out. People sign up by simply choosing whether they prefer to be notified through text, email or Instagram.

“It breaks my heart that some kids my age don’t have a home, and we can do a lot to help them,” Jaladi said. “While helping the youth at Covenant House start and run their businesses, I noticed that they use Instagram to market their business. In fact, many prefer Instagram over texting due to the costs involved with texting and having limited call minutes. It is highly encouraging that they use social media to seek information and resources. I hope to reach out to all unhoused youth using Instagram.”

In addition to working with shelters for the unhoused, Jaladi is putting up flyers in churches, hospitals and community centers around the St. Louis metropolitan area to advertise his website. He has been in touch with the city, county and state departments of health, not only to receive updates, but also to see if the platform can help their efforts in vaccination. Jaladi credits his learning and networking resources at Spark! Incubator to reach out to legislators and public health authorities to further his efforts.

Although it feels good to be a part of the effort to protect the vulnerable and distressed members of our community, this is just a small first step. The aim is to make sure everyone interested [in getting the vaccine] is aware when [the vaccine] becomes available. ”

— senior Sri Jaladi

 

“Spark! provides mentors and networking opportunities to connect with industry leaders, business owners, CEOs, and community leaders, so students have the help and mentorship to start and scale up such meaningful and impact initiatives,” Spark! Incubator instructor Xanthe Meyer said.

People that sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine notification will not only be notified when the vaccine becomes available in their area, but they will also receive their closest federal clinic or location that will provide the vaccine for free. The website has received over 450 registrations within four weeks of launch.

“The general public has shown interest in getting this information and are registering themselves. Even though this is set up to notify the unhoused and uninsured, others interested may also sign up,” Jaladi said.

Jaladi advises those without devices to complete the form to reach out to shelters or authorities for access and for updates on availability of the vaccine. While targeted to supporting the unhoused, the form is available for all.

“Although it feels good to be a part of the effort to protect the vulnerable and distressed members of our community, this is just a small first step. My mission is to reach every unhoused and uninsured and get them the information,” Jaladi said. “The aim is to make sure everyone interested [in getting the vaccine] is aware when [the vaccine] becomes available. The sooner we get the vaccine, the sooner we can develop the immunity against the virus, and the sooner we can collectively end this pandemic.”

*For more information on being notified about the vaccine availability or to submit your notification request, you may visit www.covidvaccinenotify.com.