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UC Davis Health has opened a COVID-19 community vaccination clinic in Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood – the latest in a series of rapidly emerging initiatives to immunize the medically underserved across the region.
The effort came together after Pastor Mark Meeks texted Vice Mayor Jay Schenirer with an urgent plea: Oak Park needs access to vaccines. Schneier, whose City Council district includes Oak Park, quickly introduced Meeks to UC Davis Health CEO David Lubarsky, and within four weeks the clinic was established.
“UC Davis has been a tremendous blessing,” Meeks said. “Not only to City Church but to the community at large and to even beyond Oak Park.”
The weekly clinic is one of a growing number of COVID-19 vaccination initiatives where UC Davis Health partners with community organizations in Yolo and Sacramento counties. Since early February, more than 10,000 doses have been administered.
Within the next few weeks, UC Davis Health and its community partners will open additional weekly clinics at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Oak Park and La Familia Counseling Center in South Sacramento.
“It means a lot to us that you’re here, we’re happy that we’re partnering with you,” La Familia Executive Director Rachael Rios told a UC Davis Health representative during a site visit this week at her center. The organization provides programs and services to Latino immigrants, Middle Eastern refugees and others. “You’re trusted in the community and that means a lot to the community, they know UC Davis.”
Many of the shots administered by UC Davis Health and its partners are being given to underserved populations such as Blacks and Latinos, two groups that have consistently shown high percentages of COVID-19 infections and deaths in California.
“We are all in this together”
“The pandemic has exposed deep and disturbing demographic disparities in health care that we’re fully responding to as an institution,” said Lubarsky, who is also UC Davis vice chancellor for health sciences. “We’ve joined with our local partners to find innovative approaches to vaccines and testing. We will continue the important work of advancing health equity and eliminating gaps in health outcomes for vulnerable patients throughout our region.”
He added: “We’re all in this together for our patients and our community.”
Providing vaccine doses to the underserved is a priority at many levels, such as the UC Davis Health Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
In addition to the three new clinics, UC Davis Health is a key partner with Dignity Health, Sacramento County, Yolo County, Elica Health, the Mexican Consulate, the Sacramento Fire Department and other organizations in pop-up clinics in parking lots and school auditoriums.
The clinics often involve faculty and student volunteers from the UC Davis School of Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing who are eager to administer shots, help monitor patients after their injections and register them for a follow-up dose.
At a drive-through clinic at Pioneer High School in Woodland in February, students and School of Medicine faculty members Sharad Jain, Michael Wilkes, and Saul Schaefer helped administer 737 first-dose Pfizer doses to the medically underserved.
“This past year has been difficult for everyone with the pandemic, so it felt rewarding giving vaccines and advocating for a safer and hopeful 2021,” said Sharmeen Saeed, who expects to graduate this year from the Master’s Entry Program in Nursing.
At another drive through, at La Familia Counseling Center, students helped administer 156 doses in partnership with the Sacramento Native American Health Center, the Sacramento County Department of Public Health, the Latino Economic Council of Sacramento, and volunteer nurses from HealthImpact.
“The goal was to give Sacramento’s Latinx community greater access to the COVID-19 vaccine,” said first-year medical student Sarah Spivack who served at the La Familia clinic. “This event was part of a broader push for more equitable vaccine distribution and underscores the need for COVID-19 vaccination clinics in diverse communities around Sacramento.”
UC Davis Health also reaches the unhoused population during the pandemic.
This week, physicians from the Emergency Department and Family and Community Medicine – in partnership with Sacramento Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela – will offer 100 doses of the vaccine to people experiencing homelessness in the W-X corridor near downtown Sacramento.
Transforming City Church into a clinic
Establishing the clinic at City Church, at the corner of 39th Street and 4th Avenue, involved dozens of hard-working congregants and a multidisciplinary team of UC Davis Health employees committed to making a difference.
“We had our facilities team, our IT team, our ambulatory operations team, our nursing leadership, our physician leadership, all do a joint site visit along with our pharmacists and a number of folks to plan the clinic together,” said Michael Condrin, chief operator officer of UC Davis Health Ambulatory Care, who oversees the community clinics.
Pharmacists early on tried to predict which vaccine would be available and how to store it. Information Technology crews created a customized Electronic Health Record system and wired the church to resemble a secure UC Davis Heath telecommunications network.
Meanwhile, church members distributed informational fliers provided by UC Davis Health throughout the neighborhood in a door-to-door effort to sign up people for the vaccine. The personalized approach is vital for a neighborhood where older residents lack technological tools and a number of Black residents hesitate to receive the vaccine, said Chaplain Tracee Lewis.
During a walk through at McClatchy Park, Lewis encountered more negative than positive responses when she told people about the clinic.
One woman, who described herself as “very educated,” immediately resisted Lewis’ invitation to register for the shot. The woman said she didn’t trust the vaccine because it was developed so fast. She wouldn’t even take one of Lewis’ fact sheets.
Lewis left on respectful terms.
“It’s sad,” Lewis said later. “Not only is it lack of knowledge, but the same research she said she’s reading about can be contradictory.”
Lewis said there was no point in debating the woman. “Yes, this was fast-tracked,” she acknowledged. “But the other thing we have to realize is that you have a choice. And right now we’re living with a choice of life and death.”
Opening Day success
On the clinic’s opening day, a smiling Lewis greeted those she signed up. She watched as community members worked their way through an efficient operation staffed by UC Davis employees – from the registration desk, to the vaccination table, to the monitoring area.
The people getting vaccines described themselves as grateful and relieved for the shot. They loved the convenient neighborhood location.
Cynthia McKinney, an insurance agent, said some family members were concerned when she told them she had signed up for the vaccine. They asked McKinney if she was sure about her decision and encouraged her to pray about it. Her family was alluding to the 20th century Tuskegee Experiment, a U.S. government research study that monitored syphilis in Black men but effectively offered no medical care.
McKinney said she trusts the COVID-19 vaccine. “I know a lot of people that got the shots so far and they are as healthy as a lark,” she said. “I’m just trusting that it’s OK.”
Her sister, Vanita Jasper, who owns Elegant Ladies beauty salon on Florin Mall Drive, said getting the vaccine is important because she wants to protect herself and her clients. And because her grandchildren would soon be going back to the classroom.
In addition, Jasper and McKinney are eager to spend quality time with their sister in Hayward, who is battling cancer. “We haven’t been able to see her, even to reach out and touch her,” McKinney said.
Nalini Raj, who lives five minutes from the church, said she longs to hold her granddaughter who was born at the outset of the pandemic. Her husband, Deo Raj, an appliance repairman in Oak Park, said he wants to feel safer when he enters customers’ homes.
Some of the UC Davis Health employees at the church clinic gained extensive experience working with COVID-19 vaccinations – first, when more than 14,000 employees were inoculated, and later, as tens of thousands of patients received their shots.
The City Church experience, though, felt different than the other clinics for registered nurse Shannon Romero.
“For us as health care workers, to get out in the community and really be able to serve and meet them face to face, they’re very appreciative,” she said. “But it’s just as important and heartfelt and meaningful to us."