Interview, Dr. Heidari

People who inject drugs, particularly those experiencing homelessness, are among the United States’ most vulnerable groups and often lack access to the most basic of healthcare necessities, such as vaccines. Many actively avoid traditional healthcare settings due to stigmatizing experiences with health care providers and health systems.

Dr. Omeid Heidari, nursing scientist and professor at UW School of Nursing (and publication co-author of Health Affairs, June issue), recently shared findings from a program that addresses this gap on WTOP-FM. In the interview, Dr. Heidari explains how in Baltimore, Maryland, resources trusted by the community – such as mobile syringe exchanges – were used to provide critical care where people need it most.

Co-locating vital healthcare services such as infectious disease testing and COVID-19 vaccination using existing trusted infrastructure proved transformative for people who often don’t or can’t engage with the healthcare system and face stigma when they do.

“We decided to bring the COVID-19 vaccine to them in the needle exchange van, in a venue that they trusted and knew they could depend on,” Heidari said to WTOP-FM.

Not only were the providers able to administer the vaccine, but they also saw a high completion rate for the vaccine series. Higher even than the general population of Baltimore.

When asked about broader implications of the program, Heidari describes possibilities where existing systems could be used to help providers prevent and treat diseases for unhoused people – from seasonal illness like influenza, to heart disease, still the leading cause of death in the United States.


Listen to the full story on WTOP-FM.

Read full findings on Health Affairs.

News article on MedPage Today.