NEWS | March 19, 2021

Doctors volunteer to administer COVID-19 vaccine to people experiencing homelessness (video)

Dozens of doses provided in latest UC Davis Health effort to inoculate vulnerable groups

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Seven doctors from UC Davis Health took preventive medicine to Sacramento’s most vulnerable population this week, offering COVID-19 vaccinations to people who live in tents and vehicles. 

The street outreach, under a busy downtown freeway, resulted in about 65 immunizations for people who are experiencing homelessness. 

The effort Thursday was the latest instance of UC Davis Health extending its commitment to partner with local government and nonprofit agencies in a concerted effort to vaccinate the region’s disenfranchised communities during the deadly coronavirus pandemic. 

“The goal of this is to meet people where they are,” said Mary Kathryn Orsulak, an associate physician in the Department of Family and Community Medicine. “Offering this vaccine is just the right and equitable thing to do.” 

Physician Kevin Mackey, right, with doctors (l to r) Kara Toles, MK Orsulak, Iris Vuong, Angela Jarman, Sara Cummins and James Chenoweth.

Orsulak, who’s been doing street outreach for years, helped organize the effort. 

The community partnership consists of the Sacramento Fire Department, City Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela, Harm Reduction Services, Sacramento County Department of Public Health, Sacramento Steps Forward, Loaves & Fishes and Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee. 

Valenzuela was grateful that physicians volunteered during their off hours to serve the unhoused community in her council district. “It’s been a long year for everybody,” she said, “especially for health care workers, so I really appreciate that they’re out here today.” 

The UC Davis physicians and residents, from Family and Community Medicine, Internal Medicine, Pharmacy and Emergency Medicine, were: Orsulak, Kara Toles, Iris Vuong, Angela Jarman, Sara Cummins, James Chenoweth and Kevin Mackey, who also is medical director for the fire department. 

The outreach under Interstate 80 Business/Highway 50 came at an opportune time, thanks to the availability of the latest vaccine against COVID-19.

UC Davis Health recently received the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which, unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, is easier to work with. Johnson & Johnson doesn’t have the temperature requirements of the other vaccines, and it provides full protection against COVID-19 in just one dose. 

Johnson & Johnson, doctors say, is ideal for populations that face barriers to accessing regular care, such as people experiencing homelessness and farmworkers. 

“It’s a game-changer, it really is,” said Sara Cummins, a pharmacy resident who carried vaccines from tent to tent with a blue refrigerated bag strapped over her shoulder. “It’s what we’ve been waiting for.” 

Thursday’s effort started at Fire Station 5 on Broadway, where the doctors, firefighters and community outreach workers assembled into two teams. 

One team worked the streets under the freeway near the station, while the other group started around Alhambra Boulevard. They worked toward each other in the corridor known as WX, the area between W and X streets. 

“Good morning,” Orsulak said outside the closed door of a trailer on 24th Street. “I’m sorry to wake you up. I’m with the outreach team, I just want to see if you’re interested in receiving your COVID vaccination.” Nobody answered the door, and she continued on. 

A few feet away, Cummins prepped a man’s arm for an injection while Angela Jarman asked medical history questions from a script. 

Jarman, an emergency medicine physician, said the experience was meaningful. 

“This is something we all do on our day off because it makes us feel like we’re making a real difference in terms of preventing what we see in the emergency department,” Jarman said. “Especially with local patients who don’t have good access to care, this is something that has a measurable impact.” 

Orsulak said the vaccine will provide safety to those living under the freeway and acknowledged more needs to be done. “This is one step to decrease barriers to care,” she said.