Community clinics, outreach to unvaccinated vital in pursuit of herd immunity

MADISON, Wis. – There are plenty of reasons to get vaccinated.

For one man at a community clinic at the Urban League of Greater Madison, it was to see his parents for the first time in 14 months.

At the same time, there are reasons 53% of people in Wisconsin haven’t gotten their vaccine yet. The remaining people likely face barriers, have some hesitancy or are children. Those are all groups the community clinic aimed to reach.

A grant from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services helped fund the clinic, which was done in partnership with SSM Health and other groups, including Sable Flames.

That’s a group made up of Black firefighters in Dane County, who volunteered to give shots at the clinic.

Building bridges

“It’s pretty painless, pretty quick,” Chair Brandon Jones said, adding he’s happy to help out at an event aimed to help communities of color. “There’s a lot of distrust in health care with that. We’re here to break that and rebuild that trust.”

The event was about building trust and bridges over barriers such as lack of transportation.

“You don’t have that if (the clinic) is in the community,” Urban League President and CEO Ruben Anthony said. “People can walk right here to get the vaccination.”

Governor Tony Evers and DHS Interim Secretary Karen Timberlake stopped by during the afternoon.

“We have plenty of vaccines now, and there’s no excuse,” Evers said. “We need to have those local validators.”

Timberlake said the grant provided was one of 100 offered to community-based organizations “to really reach communities, be that trusted local partner, create that open access.”

“To get to herd immunity, we need to make the vaccine available to all groups in the community,” said Mo Kharbat, SSM Health’s regional vice president of pharmacy services. “One of the groups is the younger group, the 12 to 17.”

Reaching children

DHS is extending its outreach to pediatricians, schools and other community spots with children and teens aged 12 to 17 eligible for the vaccine.

“We’re going to continue to partner with schools and other places where we know kids and families are likely to be connected to make sure we’re both spreading the word about vaccine eligibility for teens and young adults as well as making sure they have access,” Timberlake said.

According to DHS numbers, 15.4% of 12 to 15 year-olds statewide have gotten at least one shot of the vaccine, while 41.4% have in Dane County.

“These pop clinics are doing a wonderful job of bringing the vaccines out to the communities where people just have to walk down the street to get them,” UW Health’s Dr. Bill Hartman said. “That, I think, is a real game-changer in terms of getting the children vaccinated. You get these vaccines into their schools, they’re able to get vaccinated right in their gymnasiums.”

Hartman said the Moderna vaccine’s likely approval for ages 12 to 17 will make a difference, too.

“Having a second vaccine will allow us to get to herd immunity faster,” he said. “The effects of getting COVID can be devastating to any age group.”

Even if children don’t get as sick as older adults, Hartman added they can spare someone who is older and more vulnerable from getting sick. He also said the 100% efficacy rate Moderna shows among 12 to 17 year-olds isn’t often seen.

“When it comes to anything, 100% is almost impossible to attain,” he said.

Another percentage point that may seem elusive is herd immunity, estimated to be achieved when anywhere between 60 to 90% of the population receives the vaccine.

“We’re not going to achieve herd immunity without vaccinating a good, significant portion of our children,” Hartman said, adding that they make up about 20% of the population.

“As a first responder working in the pandemic since its inception, it is a dire need that we get that herd immunity,” Jones said, “so we can move on with life.”