As part of a city movement to bridge a racial gap in vaccine distribution, the University of Kentucky is partnering with community sites to hold mobile clinics that are more accessible to Lexington residents.
UK already operates a mass vaccination site at Kroger Field. But these mobile clinics are helpful because they bring the vaccine to citizens in locations close to their home and in settings where they already feel comfortable.
“Churches are very strong congregation, they can reach out to their members, they can get them here to get them vaccinated. So that's one of the reasons we like to partner with these churches in the city of Lexington to accomplish that,” Joe Monroe, UK police chief and head of the UK office that operates the clinics, said.
Hundreds of community members were vaccinated on Feb. 27 at First Baptist Church Bracktown.
Reverend Rodney McFarland, pastor at Bracktown, thanked the university for their partnership. He said it was an important initiative to encourage more and more people to get vaccinated.
“We got a lot of our members coming in,” McFarland said. “And as a new paster, some of the members I haven't met yet, so it’s been a beautiful day to greet some of the members.”
McFarland noted that many in the African American community are hesitant to get the vaccine because of past treatment from the medical profession.
“The only way we can overcome that is to get the vaccine, knowing that this is not just about African Americans, feeling reluctant, so many people have felt reluctant to getting vaccine, but the more of us who do it, the more we can encourage others to do,” McFarland said.
Lexington has seen a racial disparity in vaccine distribution, in part due to hesitancy but also due to equal access.
Mayor Linda Gorton said that Black residents account for only 5.7 percent of Lexington’s first. time doses of the COVID-19 vaccines. But 17% of the city’s cases, 26% of hospitalizations and 21% of deaths are from Black residents, despite representing only 14.6% of Lexington’s population.
“We're out there trying to provide a service to our constituents in the university community as well as to the city of Lexington. By partnering with these churches, that trust is already there with their communities and the churches,” Monroe said.
UK held the first mobile clinic last Saturday at Keeneland and is now halfway through the first round of sites.
The four weekends of mobile clinics will aim to vaccinate a couple thousand of Lexington’s minority residents.
Vaccinations at Bracktown began at 7 a.m. With about an hour to go, Monroe said the location was on track to deliver 500 vaccines by the end of clinic hours.
All of the mobile clinics are by appointment only, with sign-ups shared at the discretion of the community partner like the church.
“What we try to do is leave that up to the church, or the organization we're partnering with, where they draw their members from, as long as they meet the criteria for 1A, B, or C,” Monroe said.
Monroe UK provides a specific URL to the partner site, who share it with their community members.
In the case of Saturday’s clinic, that was primarily the congregation of First Baptist Church Bracktown. The church focused on offering appointments to the elderly.
“Today, the vaccines are strictly for those who are 60 and up. We're trying to make sure that those who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus are vaccinated first,” McFarland said. “So that's what it's all about trying to take care of our seniors.”
UK provides the doses and the manpower, bringing in volunteer technicians like those who work the Kroger Field site.
“We use some methods that you see at amusement parks like Disney to keep the lines moving, people get less frustrated,” Monroe said. “We do that at Kroger field them and implement that in mobile outreach clinics as well.”
Monroe said part of UK’s goal is to improve not just access to the vaccine but the information behind the medicine.
“Making sure that we are providing equal access to education, but also the science behind what we're delivering,” Monroe said. That can help reduce hesitancy for communities that the medical field has historically misled.
McFarland was vaccinated in part to show his community that it was safe.
“As a pastor, community leader we were encouraged to get the vaccine to encourage our community and members to be vaccinated,” McFarland said.
McFarland also believes it is important that the clinic was held at the church.
“Knowing that faith and science is one,” is important, McFarland said. “And we trust that God has given scientists the knowledge to provide vaccines for us so that so that we can be safe in our community.”
UK will host a mobile clinic next Saturday at Shiloh Baptist Church and one the following Saturday at Charles Young Community center before cycling back through each of the four sites for booster shots.
Community members can still sign up at Kroger Field. These mobile clinics are directed to people who have less access to the location or the online sign-up.
“For those that are that can have access to Kroger field, we encourage you to go to Kroger field because that is our mass site where we can really push out about 4000 a day,” Monroe said.
UK is also looking for more community sites to partner with for mobile clinics.
“We're going to look at continually doing these outreach projects in the community,” Monroe said. “So we're already starting a list of other potential partners that we can reach to.”
The Bracktown clinic will reopen in four weeks for a round of booster shots. McFarland said they were willing to host a clinic again if UK needed them to.
“As long as they need us, we'll definitely open our doors to make sure everyone gets vaccinated,” McFarland said.