We continue to energize bringing vax protection to those who haven’t had vaccinations in years. They’re in our schools. In the past few weeks we’ve incorporated mobile vax clinics into school events at both Denver’s Hamilton Middle and Sabin World Elementary as well as Aurora’s Fulton Academy.
Sabin World School nurse Kira was delighted with the clinic. She wrote:
“Thank you so much for all of your efforts & outreach for the Vaccination Clinic at Sabin yesterday (October 19). I am so thrilled with the amount of people we were able to serve. My students, families, & staff were so grateful to have the opportunity to come to a safe space to receive the immunizations they needed. Outreach is one of the most important community projects that I do and I am very passionate about it.”
But she did caution there are areas to work on and improve. Like me, she wants her clinics to be a space of welcoming to anyone and everyone. But there were challenges in getting at least a couple families through the procedures to get them vaccinated. We’ll debrief with CDPHE staff on those issues and hopefully apply some lessons learned to be even better engaging all families at our next clinic!
The momentum continues. We’re scheduling school vaccination parties into November and onward through 2024 with the support of the CDPHE mobile unit, private providers, Public Health Institute at Denver Health, hopefully with other local health departments, and others who are becoming VFC providers. As always, going to where the unvaccinated are: In the schools.
It takes work, indeed, to organize a clinic that can make a health equity difference in Colorado. Here’s the recipe. Just follow these steps.
If you’re part of a mobile clinic team:
- Find an event at a school/church/market/shopping center (where people are and when they are available) and get permission to be part of it in a fun, festive (not dull) way. That event could be morning but also late afternoon/weekend. Be flexible.
- Do outreach at the school/church/market/shopping center before the event so people are primed to be there.
- So now they’re there, but not really there unless you do this critical step: Get out from behind the table at the event and be authentic with people. Understand that the community unfamiliar with health care systems will be uncertain if they can approach you. So go to them. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Because they won’t. Of course sitting with a blank/bored look or focusing on your phone, daring people to interrupt you, is not inviting is it? Be friendly, welcoming. Outreach and invite people to your table.
- Be flexible. You can include appointments in the event, but don’t make them mandatory. Remember many do miss their appointments, so utilize the absences to make a difference for the inevitable walk-ins. Do your best never to turn away anyone who is eligible and wants a vaccination. Have staff available to help people with the complicated forms. Don’t get frustrated. If you’re frustrated, people will see it and think it’s because of them and their fault. If you turn them away it’s unlikely they’ll get vaccinated and you’ve missed the opportunity. Not only to vaccinate but to build trust in our health system as neighbor talks to neighbor about their experience with you.
- You’re dedicated but not working for free. So to be paid, work with your bosses for systemic adjustments that must be made to accommodate the outreach and clinic staffing outside of standard dates/hours. You need to work that out with your bosses. Bosses, please support staff who want to make a difference this way.
In organizing mobile clinics I urge clinicians to remember we’re engaging people without privilege, whose children don’t have health insurance, or maybe on Medicaid but parents are embarrassed to have government insurance. I talk about this in my interview with Immunize Colorado: “Transforming Colorado’s Health Care, One Person at a Time“.
Someone said “…but we have to teach this community to fish and not just hand them the fish.” Implying that we coddle too much when we don’t insist community members follow the procedures that are convenient for us but troublesome to them.
But he missed the point that you have to first build trust. Procedures should support the mission not be the mission. The real mission is to find ways to protect an uncertain community from disease outbreaks that vaccinations prevent. If we persist that public health is a favor requiring cumbersome procedures that keep this community away, we miss our mission and in fact become the enemies of our mission.
Even Jesus knew this when he handed out fish in a miracle that unconditionally fed thousands as a first step in building trust within a community that was uncertain of His message. Vaccination is our modern day miracle isn’t it?
Also, here are some discussions I was or will be part of in the next 30 days:
- The need for more funding for 317 vaccines for uninsured if we’re to do our job protecting health in Colorado. We need policies that focus on vax supplies and access to them. I’ll be discussing this with Eagle County Health Department next month. In the same vein, I’m working with Douglas County Health Department in their mission to vaccinate the community. I appreciate the comments of the county’s Assistant Director for Community Health: “I wanted to … share my deep appreciation for the support Julissa Soto has been able to provide to Douglas County Health Department … discussing how we could improve vaccinate rates for Latino population”.
- In Liberty, Kansas last week, for the Immunize Kansas Coalition’s “Dia de la Mujer Latina por un Mundo Mejor”(Latina’s Day for a Better World”) helping Kansas Latinas understand how important vaccination is for themselves and their families.
- To parents on getting involved in their children’s health at the October 24 Great Kids Head Start Policy Council meeting in Denver. I am speaking here about the importance of vaccines and partnering with Head Start schools. Starting early is the secret to build a culture of health that doesn’t yet exist.
- At the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases’ “NFID 2023 Clinical Vaccinology Course (online)” Nov 15, I’m invited to participate in a panel discussion: Disparities in Routine Immunization Rates in the US. It’s a 45 minute discussion as part of the Trends in US Immunization Rates.