Key Contributor: South End Community Health Center Brings Familiarity and Trust to Vaccination Efforts

As Beverly Rogers sat in the chair at the South End Community Health Center (SECHC) on Monday preparing to get the Modera COVID-19 vaccination, it wasn’t a snap decision that brought her out, but rather a thoughtful journey about history, science, vaccines, family and community.

Rogers, who is Cape Verdean, said she wasn’t one that immediately jumped out of the chair and ran down to get vaccinated. For her, like a lot of people of color, it took a journey to get to the exam room.

“I wasn’t so sure at first, but then I began to think about it and now I think it’s a blessing we have this vaccine,” she said. “I remember when I was a kid and they came out with the polio vaccine. We went in there really scared, but it was good.”

Rogers heard the opinions of friends in her building, of her eye doctor that got the vaccine, her sister, brother-in-law and a niece. She even did a little extensive research on the awful medical experiments done at Tuskegee and learned it was blood work and not vaccines that were part of that awful chapter in medical history.

“I was waiting to see how many people – people of color especially – would go out and take it before I went,” she said.

Eventually, she came to the conclusion that there was too much to live for, and she could no longer sit at home away from family and friends. So, she decided to take a chance on the vaccine.

“I’ll be 78 in April,” she said. “I’m still here and want to be here a lot longer so I can spend time with my daughter and son and grandchildren. It’s a blessing. I want to see how many people get it and how many people of color get it, but I hope everyone gets it. That’s the only way we’ll move forward and get back to our lives.”

East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC) CEO Manny Lopes, the parent organization of SECHC, said the community health centers are going to be a very important part of that journey that many in the community take – whether they are instantly interested or take a little time to make the decision. He said having a familiar face at a place like the SECHC, where many already get their normal health care, also makes it less intimidating.

“It goes back to the role community health centers play,” he said. “We’re the known health care provider in these communities. Right now, I think people will look to us for good information and access to the vaccination when they are ready…This is probably the most important job we’ll ever do – getting the right information out there, help individuals answer questions and when they’re ready we’ll be there to get them vaccinated and encourage them to be vaccinated.”

To get to that place was no easy task, Lopes and SECHC Director of Nursing Liz Southwick said.

EBNHC requested 4,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine from the state, and upon getting approval, stood up four vaccination sites within their footprint at health centers and community partners. They established four sites for vaccination in only a few days.

At SECHC, they have started with vaccinating their patients only last week. On Monday, it was their fourth day of the effort and things were going really well and there had been no issues.

“SECHC is offering the vaccination program for our patients right now and their family members,” said Southwick. “We do anticipate we’ll open up to the public at some point, but given the proximity here to BMC and their large community vaccination effort, that will be a smaller effort here.”

Right now, the SECHC program is available to patients 75 and over by appointment from 4-7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Appointments can be booked by phone or online, and they are doing outreach to existing patients who qualify for the vaccine.

“For us, every patient within the age range, the biggest barrier has been transportation and the weather,” said Southwick. “That’s the main reason the 75 and over gap exists for those that want the vaccine. When you go down to those 65 or 55, we are starting to get a sense of distrust in the science. Distrust in government is a huge part of that. Having it available from their primary care doctor instead of at a huge, intimidating site has been helpful.”

One thing that has emerged from the vaccine clinic so far is a sense of celebration after receiving the vaccine.

She said many in the 75+ age group have been isolated for so long, that the vaccine is like a celebration to return to their lives. So many have been so happy, she said, and they get excited and chat with gusto while waiting for the 15 minute period after the vaccination.

She said they have about 40 per day capacity right now, but have only been doing about 20 per day so far. They believe they can get up to 80 per day if need be. They have three vaccinators working at a time, all registered nurses. Wait times to get in are less than five minutes, and the vaccination process takes about 10 minutes. After the 15 minute waiting period, a second appointment is made for 28 days later to get the final dose.

“We put a lot of thought into it,” said Southwick. “It really has been a smooth rollout.”

Lopes said as a community health center, they want to be helpful and patient with those they care for. He said the biggest thing is to be ready and to be available as people go through the journey of assurance.

“The key is to be open and available,” he said. “In partnering with the state, they’ve given us all the things we need to do that. Now it’s up to us to get the information out there and help people process it.”

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