Community partners fill an important role in COVID-19 vaccine distribution

As the importance of getting more COVID-19 vaccines into arms continues, but people signing up to be vaccinated slows, the Clark County Combined Health District (CCCHD) has had to get creative in finding new ways to reach out to area residents.

Establishing community partners has been an important piece of the puzzle to build awareness for months. Early on, the CCCHD reached out to Young Hair salon owner Patty Gentry-Young to ask if her salon would help spread the word among Springfield’s black community about the necessity of the vaccine and help sign up clients for vaccine appointments.

Gentry-Young didn’t hesitate to say she’d help. She felt it was part of her responsibility.

“We have to get this vaccine to protect ourselves and protect our kids. For me, it just makes sense for employers and business owners to want your clients well and to want your customers and clients safe,” Gentry-Young says. “It was just common sense for me to want to help.”

During the past few months, Gentry-Young’s sister Deborah Woods registered more than 300 people to get vaccinated, and they’re not looking to slow down.

Gentry-Young has spoken during a national Zoom discussion through the Reimagine Main Street initiative with other minority small business leaders to share her experiences and help influence other entrepreneurs to follow in her footsteps by promoting COVID-19 vaccines.

Two weeks ago, she was even acknowledged in an address by President Joe Biden: “When they leave the salon, the receptionist helps sign you and your family up to get a COVID vaccine,” Biden said during the broadcast.

Like Gentry-Young, other local businesses, churches and organizations have become important community partners with the CCCHD in recent weeks.

“We are having to branch out a little bit, and so we’re using partners like (Mother Stewart’s Brewery),” Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson says. “And the Loftis brothers have been gracious hosts, even giving people a free beer when they get a vaccine.”

The benefit of having vaccination sites where people regularly gather, Patterson says, is that anyone 16 and older can get a vaccine without taking time to register in advance.

“We’re trying to say, ‘It’s right here – maybe you weren’t sure, maybe you hadn’t decided, but then you think, since you’re here – I’ll take it,’” Patterson says, emphasizing the importance providing that in-the-moment opportunity can be for many people. “People don’t have to pre-plan or worry or get anxious, which is a very real thing people feel about getting a vaccine. In this case, they don’t have that issue because they can get it and go.”

Kevin Loftis, co-owner of Mother Stewart’s Brewing Company, says their business was happy to support the CCCHD because the overall goal collectively supports the community.

“We are here to make it available for those who want the vaccine,” Loftis says. “We think it’s important to make it available for anyone who wants the vaccine to get it so we can get back to normal.”

That normal for the brewery and other local businesses and restaurants means being able to open-up to full capacity again – to invite a crowded gathering of customers and clients, and to bring back a hustle and bustle of crowds for events.

More vaccinated individuals will continue to lead to downward-trending COVID-19 case statistics, which will in turn lead to reduced community health restrictions that currently still limit businesses, restaurants, events, and more, Patterson says.

“The sooner everybody gets vaccinated who can be, the sooner we have a chance to go back to normal,” he says, adding that the vaccine is about more than each person’s individual health.

Getting vaccinated, he says, needs to be a community, national and international effort in order to get the pandemic under control.

“The generation who remember World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam all stepped up and got the vaccine because it felt like the patriotic thing to do. It’s still the patriotic thing to do,” Patterson says. “The question I’m asked a lot is, ‘What’s in it for me?’ What’s in it for anyone is that we go back to opening things up and not worrying about the well-being of those more at-risk individuals.”

Patterson explained that there is, for example, no natural pool of smallpox because globally, because we were able to get rid of it through vaccine use. The longer it takes to get people vaccinated, the more opportunity COVID has to mutate and continue feeding its natural pool to spread to more hosts.

“I would love to get rid of the natural pool out there,” he says. “It lessens the chance of having to get another vaccine in the future, and it lessens the possibility of mutation because if it doesn’t exist it can’t mutate. By letting it hang around, we’re giving it that opportunity.”

Cutting down the chance of spread is exactly what Patterson and his team are trying to do through pop-up vaccination clinics.

Similar to the comped beer at Mother Stewarts for people who were vaccinated on-site, other community partners are also offering incentives.

Get vaccinated at Schuler’s Bakery during one of the Saturday vaccination pop-ups, and the business will give you a donut, Patterson says.

Heading to Young’s for some ice cream or mini-golf on an upcoming weekend? Get your vaccine, and Young’s will give you an ice cream cone.

“We’re going to be there the next 4-6 weeks on Saturdays because that’s where people go,” Patterson says. “More people go to Young’s Jersey Dairy than any other single place in Clark County, so we know that’s a great place for us to be.”

The CCCHD will be taking its COVID-19 vaccine truck – which is currently undergoing a paint job to make it more recognizable – to these pop-up locations. Anyone 16 and older can get the vaccine at these sites.

Other places the CCCHD team will continue hosting pop-ups include local soup kitchens, community centers and churches.

“When we see the church members get involved and actively recruit, we see the numbers shoot up at the clinic,” Patterson says. “When business owners and churches get involved the numbers of people getting vaccines go up because they are the trusted members, the trusted voices of their community.”
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Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.