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Pop-up clinics reaching Utah's vaccine hesitant communities

Posted at 5:48 PM, May 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-18 19:48:23-04

SALT LAKE CITY — In Rose Park Community Learning Center’s parking lot, pop up tents are set up as cars make their way through the line, ready to be vaccinated. Tuesday is the second day for the pop-up vaccine clinic, and the first time the district has been able to offer vaccines to kids 12 and up without an appointment.

“Ever since the pandemic started, we were actually, this zip code 84116 was very highly impacted with COVID and so we kind of want to bring out the resources out closer to the community, so that they can access getting the vaccine” Angelica Ramos, Rose Park Community Learning Center coordinator, said.

Suzanna Hemenez was one of the many people who was vaccinated. She said she was nervous, but getting the shot in her own community made her feel more comfortable, plus with a language barrier she has a hard time navigating how to get a shot.

“I didn’t know where to get it or where to access it, so it was hard to find out where to get the vaccine and here it was a lot easier,” she said.

State health leaders began putting more focus on pop-up clinics and less on mass vaccine sites earlier this month to target harder to reach communities. So far, it’s working the Equitable Access Manager for Salt Lake County Health said.

“The last couple of days we have had clinics with 85 or 130 or so people coming. Which even two weeks ago, we weren’t seeing those numbers anymore,” Caroline Moreno said.

WATCH: Salt Lake Co. Health hosts 'pop up' COVID-19 vaccine clinic

The pop-up clinics aren’t new to SLCO Health, the department began offering these types of clinics in Feb. but on a much smaller scale, Moreno said. Since March almost 22 thousand Utahns received a vaccine at a pop-up clinic in Salt Lake County.

“You are right the difference is they were not necessarily open to the public,” she said of the more targeted approach.

In April, Ogden Community advocate Angel Castillo embarked on a journey to help break down barriers and get the LatinX community vaccinated. With help from the local health department, state leaders, activists, the Ogden School District and more partners, Castillo helped host four clinics. At the time, it was unheard of to have a vaccine clinic that didn’t require pre-registration or an appointment.

At the time, some of the biggest barriers were access and comfort level. Through the bi-lingual vaccine clinics 1,074 Utahns were fully vaccinated. About 85 percent of those who were vaccinated were LantinX, Castillo said.

Two of the clinics were hosted at the Ogden School District. It’s been important to identify the barriers and help take those away, Rich Nye, Ogden School District Superintendent, said.

“For us to be able to make it easier in our community to where people can show up and not necessarily have to register or use a computer or navigate any language barriers that area associated with that has been every beneficial for our families,” he said.

In the month of May, the LatinX population received a vaccinate at a higher rate than any other ethnicity in Utah, according to data from the Utah Department of Health. The news is promising, but there is still a gap, Castillo said. About 50 percent of all White people in Utah have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, compared to 34.2 percent of the LatinX community.

“It says to me that we still need to keep working and we want to higher numbers, but I am really pleased. That means the outreach we did in April and the clinics we had in April are successful in messaging that I have the vaccine, that I am fine,” she said.

While the barriers the state was facing just a few months ago of comfort and access are under control, now there are new barriers, like education for the LatinX community, Castillo said.

“We need to see people who look like the community, that are experts, doctors, saying here is what is happening, here is the truth and this is not the truth and this is safe and you need to be vaccinated,” she said.

There will be more pop-up clinics in the Ogden community hosted by Castillo, she promised, but not until a few weeks are spent on education and helping educate vaccine hesitant communities who became more nervous after the brief Johnson and Johnson vaccine pause.

“It is more of some misinformation that is floating around. I have had countless discussions about microchips and that they are not in the vaccine and so there is that education hurtle that we have to get over and we also have to, especially as it related to communities of color, they consume media in a different fashion. It is more of a referral culture,” she said.

The demand in Salt Lake County is so high for pop-up clinics, the department needs to find more nurse leads and communications people, Moreno said.

“We don’t always have enough staff to run as many clinics as we would like to run,” she said.