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Carle med students are bringing vaccines to underserved communities

According to the CDC, as of June 3rd, 2021, nearly 300 million total doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered. While this number is impressive and continues to grow, it is vital that underserved communities who have faced lasting effects of COVID-19 are given access to vaccinations. One project focused on highlighting these communities is the upcoming COVID-19 vaccine clinic hosted by the Carle Illinois College of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, partnering with the Don Moyer Boys & Girls Club, the Champaign Public Health District (CUPHD), and the Student National Medical Association (SNMA). All of these organizations harbor a similar mission of promoting equity to all people in services related to healthcare and not. To learn more about how the vaccine clinic supports this mission, I spoke to Aaron Brown, a fourth year medical student at Carle and one of the organizers of the event.

Brown emphasized that the motivation for the event stemmed from the visibility of racial injustices in medicine shown by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We saw what COVID did to predominantly Black and Brown underserved communities over the past year, and we wanted to do something to address the issue.”

There are a variety of inequities in the social determinants of health that place racial minority groups at risk for COVID-19. For example, crowded housing, discrimination, and lack of access to healthcare (also present in lack of access to childcare, transportation, etc.) all may contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in these communities. Plus, as one of the specific goals of the SNMA is to address the needs of underprivileged communities, the need for the clinic only made sense.

In talking to Brown about how the vaccine clinic will support Carle’s mission to reduce health disparities and address racism as a health crisis, Brown also commented, “Medical hesitancy in minority communities has been an issue for years and this new vaccine has really brought that to the forefront. We hope to use this opportunity to answer patients’ questions and provide education about vaccine safety and effectiveness. Ultimately, we hope to engender trust to ensure that all people have access to proper healthcare.”

Brown’s decision to partner with the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club also plays a key role in distributing the vaccine. He previously worked with the club on a community health and wellness fair. Charles Burton, the Director of Operations for the Don Moyer Boys & Girls Club, highlighted that the mission of the Boys & Girls club is to enable young people who need it most to achieve their highest potential, which also means providing for and educating them in a healthcare setting. Having worked with the organization in the past to do a community health fair, Brown emphasized that the club has played a pivotal role in the community and has established trust in the communities that Brown’s team is trying to serve. Thus, partnering with the Don Moyer Boys & Girls Club allows Carle’s team to achieve its main goal of higher vaccination rates among Black and Brown individuals in the Champaign-Urbana area. 

So far, the mission to advertise the event has been largely successful. Brown’s team has reached out to local churches, community centers, the Champaign County Community Coalition, Champaign Unit 4 School District, and a variety of local businesses. Through this effort, the Carle team hopes to reach a diverse group of people from all around town to inform them of free opportunities to become vaccinated. One of the key aspects of the clinic is advertising as word must be spread in order to avoid waste of vaccines.

For readers who may want to attend, the process of attending the clinic is simple. The event will take place at the Don Moyer Boys & Girls Club on Saturday, June 12th, and Saturday, July 10th, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The link to register can be found here, as well as on their flyer shown below. Walk-ins are also available and encouraged! At the vaccination clinic, the Carle team will also be giving away $10 Walmart gift cards to the first 50 people to sign-up and hourly $50 gift cards to local businesses, gas stations, and grocery stores.

Overall, the Carle outreach team is hosting this clinic as a way to connect with the community and help members of Champaign-Urbana make the most informed decision that they can about their health and the health of others. Even if you are simply curious, feel free to attend the event to learn more and ask any questions! Spreading knowledge about these opportunities that could prevent health crises is the key to public health.

Top photo is a screenshot from a Carle College of Medicine Vaccine Advocacy PSA

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