COVID-19 Vaccination Uptake, Infection Rates, and Seropositivity Among Youth Experiencing Homelessness in the United States

Nurs Res. 2024 May 13. doi: 10.1097/NNR.0000000000000747. Online ahead of print.


Background: People experiencing homelessness are at greater risk of exposure and poor health outcomes from COVID-19. Yet, little data exists on the prevalence and correlates of COVID-19 among homeless populations. To mitigate the spread and severity, uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine is needed. This can be challenging among youth experiencing homelessness who are more likely to be unvaccinated when compared to stably housed youth.

Objective: We conducted this study to determine the prevalence and correlates of COVID-19 among youth experiencing homelessness.

Methods: We examined experiences of COVID-19 symptoms, self-report of infection, rates of COVID-19 antibodies and distinguished between natural and vaccinated immunity among youth experiencing homelessness (N = 265) recruited in one large metropolitan area in the South.

Results: Based on self-report, very few participants experienced any symptoms, and 80% had never been diagnosed with COVID-19. Of those with COVID-19 antibodies (68%), the proportion with antibodies resulting from natural infection was 44%. The vaccination rate was 42%. Younger and vaccinated participants and those in shelters were likelier to have COVID-19 antibodies. Black and Hispanic youth were more likely than White youth to have had COVID-19. Those who adopted only one or two prevention behaviors were more likely to acquire a natural infection than those who adopted three or more prevention behaviors.

Discussion: Youth experiencing homelessness report low vaccination rates, disrupted access to health care and social supports, and underlying chronic conditions, which may explain why they face poorer outcomes when infected with COVID-19. Vaccination and risk mitigation strategies to combat the high prevalence of COVID-19 are especially needed for sheltered youth who are at high risk yet are often asymptomatic.