Shot of hope: Parishes host vaccines drives for underserved groups
April 13, 2021
Spring Branch Community Health Center nursing staff administer a COVID-19 vaccine dose during a drive-thru vaccination clinic at St. Jerome Catholic Church in Houston March 25. The center is collaborating with parishes to reach underserved populations. (Photo by James Ramos/Herald)
HOUSTON — To reach underserved populations, parishes in the Archdiocese have been hosting clinics to vaccinate people against COVID-19. In partnership with Spring Branch Community Health Center (SBCHC), St. Jerome Catholic Church in Spring Branch hosted two drive-thru vaccinations in March.
For Marlén Trujillo, SBCHC’s chief executive officer, the vaccine clinic was a homecoming that made sense.
A lifelong Catholic, Trujillo has been a parishioner at St. Jerome since she was five. Inspired by her faith to care for others like herself, she’s motivated to work alongside her healthcare staff to fight the pandemic.
Monsignor Dan Scheel, pastor of St. Jerome parish, was open to hosting the drive, considering many of its parishioners are the demographic Trujillo seeks to serve. Parish leaders helped start the partnership with SBCHC when they learned nearby pregnant women were going to the ER because they had no prenatal care.
Trujillo said the Spring Branch area is a large population that has limited resources for healthcare services. Even with three clinics in the region, getting out into the community, outside of clinics and medical facilities, makes the vaccine even more accessible and flexible to serve those in need.
Trujillo said the most challenging part of vaccination efforts is making sure the right information is being shared, especially for the Hispanic and Latino communities.
“We want to remove any hesitancy or fear with getting vaccinated,” she said. “It’s taken us more work than we thought to educate the communities about the benefits of being vaccinated.”
According to a March 31 Kaiser Family Foundation report, there is a consistent pattern across states of Black and Hispanic people receiving smaller shares of vaccinations compared to their shares of cases and deaths and compared to their shares of the total population.
The Spring Branch population is also diverse, with large non-English speaking communities, including a sizeable Korean community. With fake news and misinformation, non-English information about the vaccine isn’t always shared.
The clinic worked with Houston’s Korean Community Center to translate for Korean speakers, including those attending St. Andrew Kim Catholic Church. The SBCHC also joined Harris County’s effort to ensure an equitable distribution of the vaccine.
“The fastest and fairest way for Hwarris County to emerge from this crisis is by ensuring that everyone does their part to make sure everyone has access to lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “It’s not a mystery to anyone which populations and parts of our county have been hit hardest by this pandemic.”
Trujillo also said that even with Houston’s major hub of “great hospital systems” in the Texas Medical Center and throughout the region, the process of accessing registration has been “very challenging” for many populations, since the process requires consistent access to technology, like working phones and internet services.
At their vaccine clinics, the SBCHC uses paper registration forms to make registration more familiar and easier for older populations. This helps more vulnerable populations register for the vaccine and receive it where they can access it, close to their homes.
Sister Maureen O’Connell, OP, director for the Secretariat of Social Concerns, said essential workers — many who are low-income populations — see a cost when it comes to getting vaccinated. If they take a day off work, it results in lost wages, if they even have wages.
“So many people have had income diminished because of the pandemic,” she said. “It makes sense that we want to have as many people vaccinate. It will cut down on wage loss, work loss and kids not being able to go to school. It’s a domino effect — at the top or the bottom, the dominoes will fall.”
Of the parishes hosting vaccine clinics, Sister O’Connell said the effort goes back to caring for one another. “Am I my brother’s keeper, my sister’s keeper? My responsibility for the other leads to this idea of being vaccinated and increase in equitable access to vaccines,” she said. “What was the message Jesus gave to us? That we care for one another.”
For more information about vaccines in Harris County, visit www.publichealth.harriscountytx.gov. For more information about the SBCHC, visit www.sbchc.net.