Efforts underway to bring vaccines to underserved communities

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – As vaccine eligibility opens up in Ohio, some in Columbus are pushing to improve access in underserved communities. 

Saturday, OhioHealth and the Columbus Urban League teamed up to host a vaccination clinic outside of the organization’s building near the Bronzeville and King-Lincoln neighborhoods. 

“We thought it was important for us to partner with a healthcare institution to say, ‘Hey, this is safe.’ We have other black people out here that are administering. I’m out here. Our team has been vaccinated,” said Columbus Urban League president and CEO Stephanie Hightower. 

Hightower explained the Saturday clinic was focused on vaccinating communities of color which are receiving the vaccine at a lower rate than others. 

“There is a level of mistrust in the black and brown community around the healthcare systems,” she said, explaining many who live nearby work one or several jobs and may not be able to find transportation or childcare so they can go to another vaccination site. 

“Anybody in the community who wants to vaccine – we feel they should have access. We really, truly believe in equity and access to the vaccine,” said Becca Barbeau, the operations director for OhioHealth’s Community Health Partnerships. 

OhioHealth’s pilot clinic utilized the provider’s Wellness on Wheels mobile unit to transport the vaccine supply and prepare the shots. Tents and chairs were set up in the parking lot of the Columbus Urban League for check-in, vaccinations and monitoring. 

Takesha and George Lee made appointments for the clinic after struggling to book for provider sites. The couple and their two children all contracted COVID-19 in fall of 2020. 

“It was one of the scariest events in our life, never would want to go through that again. So for me and my family, vaccination was the way to go,” said George Lee, explaining he faces a higher risk for a serious case because of his high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. 

Takesha Lee said she was nervous about receiving the shot, but looking forward to the peace of mind that would come with being vaccinated. 

“As long as it’s anything not like COVID – I can deal with it,” she laughed. 

Hightower said the pandemic has highlighted racial and socioeconomic disparities, which have long plagued marginalized communities. She hopes improving access to the COVID-19 vaccine will build a framework for tackling other barriers in the future. 

“This is really a good opportunity for us to begin to level-set with black and brown people in this country,” Hightower said. “Them listening to the differences and the needs for marginalized people and black and brown people and really putting into play strategies around how we get them access to healthcare… I think we’re really starting to see it turn a corner.” 

The patients vaccinated during the Saturday clinic will receive their second doses in mid-April at the same location. All shots are appointment only.  

OhioHealth plans to expand its pop-up clinics to other underserved communities. 

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