By Wendy Molaska, MD - Wisconsin Medical Society President-elect
In the past year I have gone from the frontlines of caring for patients dying from COVID to the frontlines of administering vaccines against COVID. I’m sure you can guess which one has been more enjoyable. It has been refreshing to see people so excited to get vaccinated. However, our work is not nearly done. As vaccine supply now starts to exceed demand, we need to get creative to make sure as many people as possible can get vaccinated, especially those groups who have historically not had adequate access to health care.
Vaccination rates continue to be lagging in some of the groups hardest hit by COVID - in particular Black and Latinx communities. The reasons are multi-factorial. Distrust in the mainstream medical community due to years of systemic racism. Worries about the cost of vaccines, or of needing certain documentation to get vaccinated. Worries about taking time off to be able to get the vaccine or having to miss work due to vaccine side effects. Not having easy transportation to clinics or vaccine sites. Language barriers preventing adequate communication regarding the vaccines. Not having internet access to sign up online for vaccine clinics... and these are just a few of the barriers people are facing to get vaccinated.
The conundrum is that many of these people are actually not vaccine hesitant as many people have said. A gentleman from Guatemala told me that he was excited to be able to get his vaccine because he knew ‘back home’ they did not have access to the COVID vaccine at all. However, when he did try to get vaccinated at a pharmacy, he was turned away due to not having an insurance card. A Black man told me he was tired of going into clinics for any reason because as he would sit down in the waiting room, other patients would inevitably get up and move seats to be further away from him. However, he wanted to get the vaccine because so many members of his family had been affected by COVID.
For the past several months I have had the privilege of working with Fitchburg Family Pharmacy, a community pharmacy, which is striving to vaccinate everyone they can. They have an amazing concept and have worked with their staff, volunteers from the community and students from the UW School of Pharmacy to help take vaccines into the community. Knowing they were willing to bring vaccines to sites outside their pharmacy I was able to work with the pharmacy and other trusted community sites, and people, to set up vaccine clinics in a Black barbershop and a Hindu temple. We also had an amazing turnout for the Latinx community at the Literacy Network where we had all information in Spanish and English and bilingual volunteers available throughout the event.
How I connected with Fitchburg Family Pharmacy was a bit of serendipity. But the state’s Department of Health Services (DHS) is now helping to take the serendipity out of it. They are able to help connect community-based organizations throughout Wisconsin with a vaccine provider willing to hold on-site vaccination clinics. Community-based COVID vaccine clinics are successful because they offer convenience, improve access for hard to reach individuals and reassure people as they see others in their community and trusted social circles getting vaccinated. As we continue to help patients throughout Wisconsin, consider any affiliations you have with your local organizations and consider setting up a vaccine clinic.
Organizations can communicate their interest in having a clinic to DHS via the vaccine provider matching survey. This is also available on the COVID-19 partner resources webpage and includes the following vaccination clinic guidance materials:
DHS will assist in matching organizations with a vaccine provider or developing a solution to allow for vaccination.
Thank you to the physicians throughout the state who continue to encourage your patients to get vaccinated. This may help provide additional opportunities for your communities. As for me, I’ll be spending my weekend with Fitchburg Family Pharmacy at a few local high schools vaccinating those ages 12 years and up!
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