Vaccine event brings neighborhoods together to promote public health

Residents from four Kansas City neighborhood associations gathered Aug. 21 at a midday event making COVID-19 vaccines and other health resources available to their communities.

The event accomplished its primary purpose — to get more residents vaccinated, from 12-year-olds to senior citizens. And it offered several other health services, including screening for high blood pressure and diabetes and opportunities to get linked to other health services and community resources. There were also opportunities to complete a survey on health beliefs and behaviors regarding COVID-19 and to participate in several research studies.

The event accomplished its primary purpose — to get more residents vaccinated, from 12-year-olds to senior citizens. And it offered several other health services,  including screening for high blood pressure and diabetes and opportunities to get linked to other health services and community resources. There were also opportunities to complete a survey on health beliefs and behaviors regarding COVID-19 and to participate in several research studies.

Michelle Clark, secretary with the Key Coalition neighborhood group, said the event was the sort of outreach and hard work “that are what we have to do. Everyone wants to get back to some sort of normal, and to do that we have to get people to do the right things and take care of themselves.”

Marquita Taylor, the president of the Santa Fe Area Council, agreed. “There’s power in numbers, and we can have that if we talk with each other and stand together. It’s hard work but it’s also an honor to serve these strong neighborhoods with great histories. In time of need, let’s come together.”

Our Healthy KC Eastside was made possible by a Jackson County grant to UMKC of $5 million. Provided through the county’s federal CARES Act funds, the project promotes vaccinations and other health services in Eastside communities. Our Healthy KC Eastside has lined up churches, youth organizations and businesses to spread the word and hold similar vaccine events.

Such events also provide good experience for UMKC pharmacy, medical, nursing and dental students. Nearly 100 are being trained to assist with COVID-19 vaccines, and several of them at this event were learning first-hand how to check blood pressure and screen for diabetes.

Stefanie Ellison, M.D., associate dean for learning initiatives at the School of Medicine and a professor of emergency medicine, has coordinated student volunteers throughout the pandemic.

She said UMKC students’ willingness to help and to learn has shined in response to the pandemic, providing several real-time opportunities to promote interprofessional education. “It’s gotten us to do what we’ve wanted to do all along,” said Ellison, in terms of having students from the different health care schools learn together and from one another.

The event also was a chance for researchers to connect with people in the community. A researcher from Children’s Mercy, for example, gathered contact information so she could check later with participants to see if the event’s educational resources led to getting vaccinated after the event, or if they faced barriers to getting vaccinated, such as a lack of transportation or the inability to take time off work. Other researchers looked for people who already had COVID-19, to possibly study their mental health challenges and other after-effects of the pandemic.

Besides preventive health care services and advice, the event included entertainment and refreshments. From a hotdog stand and photo booth, to live DJs and a backpack giveaway, there was something for everyone.  

“This is the biggest event we’ve been able to have since COVID,” said Dennis Robinson, the board president for the Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council. “It’s frustrating and sad to have an effective vaccine and not have more people take advantage of it.”

Robinson, who attended UMKC in 1967 and 1968, had a long career with General Motors, working in its insurance division. After retirement, he became active with Legal Aid and other non-profits but eventually cut back just to his neighborhood council. “Ivanhoe is a great neighborhood, and we have a small but outstanding staff and board,” he said. “I’m so happy to be able to help, and every dozen vaccines we get fills the bucket a little more. Every little bit helps.”


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